Thousands Rally for Orlando Massacre Vigil in the Castro
By Dennis McMillan
Thousands gathered in the streets and on sidewalks near the Harvey Milk Plaza in the Castro in front of a stage on a flatbed truck to respond to the worst mass shooting ever in America’s history, and the worst loss of lives on our soil since 9-11. A total of 49 died and 53 patrons were wounded in the Orlando, Florida gay nightclub, Pulse, during Latin Night.
Two Drag Kings known as Momma’s Boyz opened the Castro vigil singing a mournful “Freedom” song to a tearful crowd. But the energy changed to anger and resolve when speakers took the podium. Supervisor Scott Wiener said, “We’re here today to recommit ourselves to the fight, to honor the survivors, to send good energy to the families and friends who have been left behind.”
Supervisor David Campos said, “As a gay Latino man, it is not shocking to me that the worst mass shooting in the history of this country would target the queer community.” He added, “We want our leaders to think of queer people of color not just when there’s a massacre, but every single day.” As many of the speakers stated, he emphasized opposition to Islamophobia and xenophobia. “We are all in this together. I know that targeting the Muslim community is simply wrong, and we’re going to speak out against it.”
Approximately two-thirds of the Orlando victims were Latino. Lito Sandoval, SF Latino Democratic Club president, noted, “Latino leaders were not contacted [for the vigil]. We had to reach out.” He stressed, “Acts like this don’t make me want to back down. They make me want to continue to fight.”
Among the many Muslims speaking at the rally was a Muslim doctor from San Francisco General Hospital, Suzanne Barakat, M.D. saying, “As a physician, I see these tragedies as symptoms of a deeper illness, a disease of the soul that goes by different names.”
Former Assemblyman and former Supervisor Tom Ammiano joked that NRA was an acronym for “National Real A-holes.” He made several fun-loving ribald jokes, but ended seriously, saying, “We are still here. We are still strong. We are still fighting, and we’re not going to live in fear!”
“We’ve known gun violence before,” shouted Pastor Megan Rohrer. “Angry people of faith are not the majority. We are queer. We are transgender. We are fabulous, we are faithful. We must stand up. We must vote until everyone is safe in bathrooms, in churches, and in the … streets.”
“There’s a lot of heartache, but we are coming together to create some type of solidarity, not only in San Francisco but also beyond ourselves,” said Dyke March organizer Rosa M. Hernandez.
Sister Merry Peter and Sister Roma of The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence led the crowd in a recitation call and response, asking everyone to lift up their candles and repeat each time, “We shine our light on you!”
Mayor Ed Lee spoke through a few boos from the audience, “We’re here in unity so we can stop this violence, and San Francisco must lead the way. Hatred will not drive out hatred, and darkness will not drive out the dark.” He concluded, “This is a stark reminder that violence still threatens our LGBT community.”
Toney Chaplin, Interim Police Chief who was recently appointed after Chief Greg Suhr resigned, said, “The NRA is a powerful group, but I am staring at a more powerful group.” He added, “We need to get this legislation in place to change the gun laws in this country.” He noted that San Francisco Police have increased patrols in the Castro and elsewhere. And they promise to really step up security at the San Francisco Pride Parade and Celebration.
Members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus closed the vigil by singing “We Are a Gentle, Angry People,” with SFGMC Director Dr. Timothy Seelig leading the crowd in the familiar Holly Near protest song. Then they sang “We Shall Overcome” and closed with an old Irish blessing ending with “May God hold you in the palm of His hand.”
Following the rally in the Castro, people marched peacefully but defiantly to City Hall, which was appropriately lit in the rainbow colors. The names of murdered victims were read aloud. After the rally, many left their candles burning on a statue of Abraham Lincoln at City Hall. So appropriate, as Lincoln was murdered for civil rights.
To support the victims and their families, please go to gofundme.com/pulsevictimsfund