In the wake of this past weekend’s tragic attack in Orlando, deemed by police officials the worst mass shooting in America’s history, the Baltimore LGBTQ community is rallying together to honor the victims and promote a message of peace and unity.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, Omar Mateen opened fire at Pulse nightclub in Orlando (which was co-founded by Hippodrome president Ron Legler in 2004). Forty-nine people were killed and 53 others were injured.
Various organizations including the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLCCB), FreeState Legal & Equality Maryland, and The LGBT Health Resource Center of Chase Brexton Healthcare are planning area events to aid in healing and advocate for public safety precautions in our own community.
With rainbow flags and candles in tow, community members gathered to pay their respects at the Washington Monument in Mt. Vernon last night, and another vigil is scheduled for tonight at 7 p.m. at the YNot Lot in Station North. Beforehand, an ensemble of Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians will be honoring the victims by performing a program of baroque music at City Cafe in Mt. Vernon beginning at 5:30 p.m.
“It’s moments like these that we realize how important it is that we have each other,” says GLCCB board president Jabari Lyles. “We’re hoping to create a space of unity and love for us to be together, hold one another, and reflect on the history of violence that LGBTQ people have had to endure for years.”
Tonight’s observance will include remarks by Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, an interfaith prayer offered by local LGBTQ leader Merrick Moise, a performance by soul musicians J. Pope, and an open forum for community members to share their grievances. Lyles says that volunteer therapists will also be onsite.
Saida Agostini, director of community engagement and youth policy for FreeState, plans to share a poem.
“For me, it’s about acknowledging that this happened within our own community and gathering to hear our voices and witness together,” she says. “There is so much love and beauty in our history of resistance. This is such a hard moment, but it’s a moment for us and grieve with Orlando and each other.”
FreeState, an advocacy organization that works to provide civil legal aid for low income members of the LGBTQ community, is sponsoring multiple events in the area and has compiled a list of vigils being planned throughout the state.
“A key part of our mission is to ensure that LGBTQ people in Maryland have the ability and opportunity to live our lives authentically with dignity,” says Jer Welter, FreeState’s deputy director and managing attorney. “Community safety is a key component of that.”
As the community gears up for the upcoming Baltimore Pride festivities, scheduled July 19-24, Lyles says that the GLCCB plans to play a significant role in the conversation to increase police protection at the city’s gay clubs and gathering places.
“This massacre really reminds us of the political roots of the Pride celebration and why Pride Month is necessary,” he says. “As the community continues to suffer, we will prevail and make progress, which is a testament to our will and our faith. Together, we’re at our best when we’re faced with these types of dark challenges.”