A Gathering of Kindred Spirits

'There is a long journey ahead, and we will make it together.'

"I should put on makeup,” the young woman said into her cell phone, as she joined the throngs crossing Orange Avenue for Monday night’s community vigil on the green in front of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. “But I’m afraid I’ll cry so much I’ll just wreck it.” 

Certainly there were tears.  But the overall mood wasn’t mournful among the thousands who packed the ground between the arts center’s portico and Orange Avenue. It was upbeat and, at times, defiant. It was also an exercise in confidence and courage, coming just 40 hours after a gunman killed 49 people and injured 53 at the Pulse gay nightclub: At this large, open-air gathering, there were no metal detectors, no cordon of uniformed police, although black-clad bicycle officers kept watch over the crowd. Even the dozen or so dogs in the crowd seemed to get along. Children and adults wrote messages of hope and encouragement on brown butcher paper banners taped to the sidewalks. 

In the crowd were plenty of rainbow banners, skin ink and purple Orlando City Soccer shirts. Floral bouquets were piled in front of the stage, along with a long, multi-colored paper chain. Water was distributed and booths offered drop-in trauma counseling.  People wore placards offering free hugs. 

The poster the Rev. Marni Harmony carried read: “Enough. One Orlando. How Many More Lives.” “I’m just so grateful that it matters enough to Orlando that people are here, regardless of whether they’ve ever been to Pulse, or know anyone who was there,” said Harmony, former pastor of the First Unitarian Church of Orlando.

 Bill Yahner, a newly retired elementary school teacher and member of the Orlando Gay Chorus, said the past few days have been rough ones for the group, as they have been for the entire community. Sunday night the chorus sang to a packed house at Joy Metropolitan Community Church. At Monday’s vigil, they sang two songs, “True Colors” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” “There’s a lot of love within our group,” Yahner said. 

The stifling, late afternoon heat and humidity finally gave way to soft evening breezes, as the red, green, white and blue lights came on in the portico windows above the stage. Black, white and Latino clergy spoke, both Christian and Muslim, as helicopters buzzed overhead. “We are all part of the LGBT community, also the Latino and Islamic community,” the Rev. Bryan Fulwider, his white shirt drenched, told the crowd.

 “It is not true that evangelicals have a war with the LGBT community,” said the Rev. Gabriel Salguero, the president and founder of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, and pastor of Iglesia El Calvario in Orlando. Salguero shifted from Spanish to English, his voice bouncing off the tall buildings surrounding the green.

 Elected officials crowded the stage at one point and, at another, so did survivors of the Pulse shooting. Mayor Buddy Dyer announced that all those killed had been identified, and their families notified. 

“We are mourning, and we are angry,” Dyer said, adding, “We will get through this. We will get through this.” Later, the names of the dead were read. To cheers from the crowd, a gun control advocate railed against “the corporate gun lobby.” The vigil ended with lighted candles held aloft, as the bells of nearby First United Methodist Church tolled 49 times. 

“Be at peace, my friends,” said the Rev. Kathy Schmitz, of the First Unitarian Church of Orlando. “There is a long journey ahead, and we will make it together.”

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