The mayor, governor, and thousands of members of New York’s LGBT community and their supporters gathered around Stonewall Inn yesterday evening for a vigil to mourn the 49 killed and dozens more injured during Sunday’s attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
The vigil, which felt more like a rally at times, started and ended with a marching band playing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The first speaker, Tituss Burgess of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, was visibly shaken as he told the crowd that he felt “helpless” in the wake of the tragedy and then sang “A Girl” from West Side Story: “We’ll find a new way of living / We’ll find a way of forgiving.”
Andrew Cuomo described mass shootings as “an American curse” and told the crowd to demand that the federal government “pass sensible gun control— because enough is enough.” He went on to call for “the largest and safest pride parade in history” next weekend. In the crowd, one man defiantly held up a disco ball, sending a message that the party would indeed go on.
While some chanted, “Gun control! Now!”, the message didn’t sit well with a couple of attendees— one holding a sign in support of Rentboy.com, an “internet brothel” that was shut down by the feds last year— who demanded an end to the political grandstanding and yelled that the real problem was discrimination and homophobia.
“Let us do what we did after 9/11,” Cuomo went on, “and let us build back a monument better than ever before. Let us make Stonewall not just a national monument but an international symbol for all to know that freedom started here in 1969, in the Stonewall, and it moved this state and this state moved this nation and we will not stop until we have freedom for all.”
“No one is going to tell us who we are or how to live our lives, or the person we were meant to be,” the governor concluded. “That’s what New York is all about.”
Cutting a notably meeker figure despite his shaved head and leather biker jacket, pop star Nick Jonas took the stage to tell everyone that his father, a minister from New Jersey, shaped his view that “love is love and we are all equal.”
Jonas continued: “I feel such pain and sadness for the victims and their families. And what’s so powerful is how brave this group is here today and how brave all of the LGBT community is.”
By this point, attendees who were tired of the speeches had started to chant, “Say their names,” in an attempt to get the speakers to read off the names of those killed, as promised. But there was a burst of applause when Mirna Haidar, a member of the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity, introduced herself as a Muslim and a queer gender-non-conforming woman. “I am also a refugee who came to the United States for safety and to find refuge, but I came here to find hate and discrimination for every identity that I held and that I embodied,” she said, going on to rail against America’s culture of gun violence, Islamophobia, and the FDA’s ban on blood donations from sexually active gay men.
Lower East Side rep Rosie Mendez also drew cheers when she introduced herself as “an out Puerto Rican lesbian in the New York City Council.” She spoke of the bittersweetness of attending the Puerto Rican Day Parade before receiving news of the horrific death of dozens of Latinos and called on the crowd to demand a ban of semi-automatic assault weapons.
Flanked by his wife, Chirlane McCray, and his police commissioner, William Bratton, Mayor Bill de Blasio mourned the loss of Brooklyn’s own Enrique Rios, “a caring and loving young man who was already serving others— he was attending nursing school while working with our senior citizens as a social worker.” After describing the shooting as an attack on American as well as New York values, the mayor, who has notoriously endorsed Hillary Clinton, took a turn for the overtly political: “We do not accept the notion of any of our leaders sowing hatred and division, particularly in the wake of tragedy— and that means you, Donald Trump.”
The mayor had come to deliver a message for Latino, Muslim, and LGBT New Yorkers: “We stand with you and we will protect you.” But nearly two hours into the vigil, many in the crowd had lost patience, and Bratton’s short speech was drowned out by calls such as “Stop killing people!”, “End police brutality!”, and “Demilitarize the NYPD!”
Finally, the crowd fell silent as the names and ages of the 49 victims were read one at a time. Many attendees, using their phone flashlights as candles, responded to each name with “Presente”— Spanish for present.
Tonight, members of the NYU community are invited to a 5 p.m. vigil at 60 Washington Square South. At 6:30 p.m., all are invited to form a “human rainbow” in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge.