A circle of people gathered on Ho Plaza before sunset, surrounding 49 squares of paper with a single name on each one, and a candle resting on top. Soft music singing gentle melodies of love and mourning played in the background as we all sat down on the still-warm cement. People of all ages, ethnicities, sexual orientation, and genders were present to mourn the victims of the PULSE nightclub massacre. This was a circle of love, grief, and confusion, but no hate was present. The vigil was organized to mourn the victims in Orlando, and not to put more hate into a world with too much already.
Before we lit the candles in remembrance of the victims, members of the circle were encouraged to speak. One student spoke about the privileges that being at Cornell provides the LGBTQIA+ community. She said that here she is able to be herself, and not worry about what might happen if she holds her girlfriend’s hand or kisses her in public while being on campus. We spoke about how PULSE was also supposed to be a safe space for queer people; a place for people to be themselves, but that was shattered when Omar Mateen opened fire. Some expressed that this shooting is detrimental to LGBTQIA+ youth, who might have been thinking of coming out, but now may be too scared.
One student talked about how he has never been to Florida and doesn’t know a single person in Orlando, but he cried until he fell asleep after hearing about the shooting. It took him a long time to realize why he was so upset. He realized that this explosion of violence was directed at such a central part of his identity. Not a year after gay marriage was legalized and during the month of Pride, the LGBTQIA+ community has been torn apart by an assault rifle shooting 13.3 bullets per second.
As a white, cis-gendered, straight woman I’ll never be able to fully understand what my queer friends are experiencing at this moment of time. However, one student was able to help me. She explained that she made a list of every queer person she knew, and the list was a little over 100. She imagined if 49 of those people were dead, and the rest critically injured. Her life would be irreparably changed. I also thought about 49 people I couldn't live without in my life. I thought about if I had been shot, how many people would be affected, and I thought about the families of the PULSE victims.
Another straight student spoke about what being a straight ally means to her now in the wake of the shooting. She realized that she needs to take a stand against hateful behavior towards her LGBTQIA+ friends by discrediting false prejudices and standing up to hateful language used by her friends and family. Straight allies need to use their privilege to stand up for the LGBTQIA+ community.
Though the United States has made decent progress in achieving equal rights for any and all peoples, the fight is far from over. Until people can go to nightclubs to dance, kiss in public, practice their faith, and be wholly and truly themselves, the fight is not over. As one student said at the vigil, if we are not actively fighting for what is right, we are merely being complacent in the oppression of others.
As we lit 49 candles and read 49 names, I hope that I never gather on Ho Plaza to mourn the senseless slaughter of innocent people again. I hope that the violence and hate will stop. In the wake of Orlando, I hope that the LGBTQIA+ community will be proud of who they are and hold their heads high.
As the vigil ended, the most brilliant sunset of the Ithaca summer so far shone over the slope and I remembered one very important thing. Life is gift that should be treasured above all else.
Peace and love.