A gunman killed 49 people and injured 53 others at Pulse, a nightclub in Orlando, June 12. This shooting was the deadliest mass shooting in modern United States history. In the days that followed, a wave of support swept through the nation and the world for both those directly affected and the LGBT community in general. The city of Philadelphia and Drexel University also responded to the tragedy.
The Center City vigil was solemn June 13. Hundreds of people crowded around a small microphone that hung next to both the American flag and the iconic Rainbow flag representing the LGBT community. As the speakers discussed issues and emotions related to the tragedy, candles were passed out to everyone in attendance.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney spoke at the vigil. His devotion to the LGBT community was recognized by many of the speakers.
“First, I’d like to thank the most progressive mayor this city has ever seen, mayor Jim Kenney. This man has been on the frontline of the [LGBT] movement since before it was a hot topic, so I want to thank him personally for that,” Deja Lynn Alvarez, Director of Divine Light LGBT Wellness Center and Shelter, said to the crowd.
Alvarez continued to speak on the importance of recognizing the groups targeted by the attack. She also made a statement regarding the resilience of the LGBT community.
“It’s important that we acknowledge the part of our community that has been most affected by the tragedy in Orlando, Florida, and that is the queer Latinx community … We are a community, and we have the right to exist. No matter what anyone says, we have the right to be here,” Alvarez continued. The crowd cheered and applauded in response.
One of the final formal events of the vigil was a rendition of the Cyndi Lauper song “True Colors” to which the crowd sang along.
“I see your true colors/ And that’s why I love you/ So don’t be afraid to let them show/ Your true colors/ True colors are beautiful/ Like a rainbow” are the final lyrics of the song.
After the song was over and the speakers had finished, the vigil went on into the night, and while walking around one could see small bands playing music and children holding signs they had made before the event.
“We’re with you, Orlando,” one sign read.
On the steps of city hall were candles surrounded by hearts drawn in chalk as well as the names of those lost in the tragedy. The names were accompanied by messages of love and support. As people filtered by they picked up chalk to leave their own message or simply took out their camera to capture the moment.
Drexel’s vigil took place a week after the City Hall vigil June 20, and it gave a chance for Drexel students and faculty to show their support as well as pay their respects. Similar to the Philadelphia-wide vigil, speakers shared their thoughts on the tragedy with the crowd. Rabbi Isabel de Koninck, Executive Director for Hillel at Drexel, spoke on the tragedy.
“Each of us on this earth deserves a place where we can be fully ourselves, where we can find community, where we can find connection,“ she stated.
“As a rabbi and a queer person, I look in the faces of my amazing students and of my 3-year-old child, and I sigh. We have not come as far as I’d hoped. This is not the world I wanted to give you, but we cannot despair. We have mourned for seven days and we will continue to bear deep grief in our hearts, but we also have to learn to turn our mourning to dancing and to action,” Koninck continued.
Towards the end of her speech everyone present was encouraged to light their candles and join in singing a verse of “This Little Light of Mine.”
The response to the vigil was positive, and attendees recognized the importance of the event.
“I think it’s great that we come together as a community. It’s very important to show that we all stand [together], we stay strong. I think [the event] is something incredible at Drexel University campus organized by the LGBT community. I really respect it, and I’m glad that I’m a part of it,” Drexel software engineering student Pratik Shekhar said.
Almost immediately after the shootings there were speculations about the motives of perpetrator. It had been reported by multiple news agencies that the gunman had sworn allegiance to the radical group ISIL, but there are still many unanswered questions, and there have been reports that his motivations were multi-faceted.
“We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam … we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than push them away through suspicion and hate,” President Barack Obama said after a shooting in December that killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California. He has since drawn comparisons between the two attacks, calling the men who carried them out “lone wolves.”
At the vigil, Drexel junior Kalyani Mahajan seemed to echo the president’s message of unification and alliance following the tragedy.
“I’m glad that the University came out to do something like this because it shows solidarity with the [LGBT] community and the Muslim community,” she said.
The two vigils were among dozens organized across the globe in the days following the Orlando shootings in remembrance of the lives lost and in support of the LGBT community.