Local LGBT community and allies mourn Orlando victims

Local LGBT community and allies mourn Orlando victims
June 23
07:15 2016

Hundreds filled Corpening Plaza Thursday evening, June 16, evening during a vigil held by Pride Winston-Salem for the victims of the Orlando shooting.

On June 12, the worst mass shooting in the country’s recent history took place at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. A gunman armed with an assault rifle and pistol opened fire on a crowd of 300 during the club’s Latin night, killing 49 and wounding more than 50.

The shooter, who was killed by police, claimed allegiance to the Islamic State in 911 calls during a standoff with authorities, though investigators have found no links between him and ISIS.

The media has been referring to Pulse and other gay nightclubs as a sanctuary for those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. During the vigil, Pride Winston-Salem President Jerry Morin said he agreed with that description.

“It’s a sanctuary for us to go, have fun, dance, be with our friends without judgment or fear of violence,” he said. “For a lot of people, that’s been violated. It will take some time to get that back, but we can’t let that deter us.”

Speakers at the vigil also called for action. Corey Hodges, a former Pride board member, applauded senators who walked out during the moment of silence in Congress for the Orlando shooting. The Democratic senators were protesting lack of legislative action on guns after numerous mass shootings. After a nearly 15 hour filibuster, Republican Senate leadership agreed to hold votes on universal background checks and banning those on the terrorist watch list from buying guns. These measures did not pass Monday.

Hodges also talked about the outpouring of online support, with hashtags like #keepkissing, which refers to the shooter’s father saying that his son was upset when he saw two men kissing.  Hodge told those in the LGBT community to not hide who they are and continue to “queer the space,” referring to a sermon by Rev. Roger Hayes, the openly gay pastor of Church of the Holy Spirit Fellowship.

“I implore you to keep kissing, queer this space and never be silent,” said Hodges.

Hodges said while there’s currently no gay bar or club in Winston-Salem, after Club Snap recently closed, the local LGBT community finds sanctuary in groups like Pride, which holds a festival and parade in October, faith groups and other organizations.

One of those organizations is Northstar LGBT Community Center, located on Burke Street. Teresa Carter, who founded it in 2013, said the center is using grief counselors to help people deal with the tragedy. She said the center has had calls from people who were so shaken by the shooting they were thinking of suicide. It’s also had people who’ve called wanting to volunteer and help however they can.

“We’ve fought many things in the last 20 years, and this is just another thing we’re going to fight together,” she said.

Also among the speakers was Interfaith Winston-Salem Chair Drea Parker and Devonte Jackson, a transgender man. Rev. Maria Teresa, an associate pastor at Wentz Memorial United Church of Christ, read a message in both English and Spanish at the end. She then read the names of all 49 victims killed in the Pulse shooting as Hodges rang a bell for each one. The crowd of about 500 stood silently and held candles as each name was read, some crying and embracing each other as they tried to deal with the tragedy.

Another vigil was held Sunday at Merschel Plaza, along Fourth Street in downtown Winston-Salem. That vigil was hosted by the North Star LGBT Community Center.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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