BURLINGTON — Thousands of people gathered at the top of Church Street and marched to City Hall Park to show solidarity with the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting.
The shooting left 49 dead and at least 53 wounded inside a gay bar in Orlando early Sunday morning. It was the nation’s deadliest mass killing since Sept. 11, 2001, according to the White House.
Omar Mateen, 29, of Fort Pierce, used a handgun and an AR-15 assault rifle, to shoot a third of the dancers who were at Pulse nightclub, according to the New York Times.
People waving the rainbow gay pride flag and holding posters with messages of support, or simply holding one another’s hands, streamed down Church Street in a quiet wave led by a band playing melancholy tunes.
Leaders of Vermont’s LGBTQ community, faith leaders and politicians addressed a crowd that Burlington Police estimated was close to 2,000 from the steps of City Hall, during a vigil organized by the Pride Center of Vermont.
Kim Fountain, the Pride Center’s executive director, thanked city officials for their help in organizing the event on short notice. She said Sunday’s shooting was a painful reminder of the hate and bias toward the LGBTQ community.
Fountain said she expects that the hateful rhetoric from national political leaders could lead to more bias-motivated violence.
Fountain, standing next to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I.Vt., said Vermont’s political leaders are a notable exception — a line that drew huge applause from the crowd.
Sanders said that while some questions about the shooter’s motivation or how the attack was carried out may go unanswered, “We know that one hateful person committed this crime, not an entire people or an entire religion.”
“To blame an entire religion for the actions of one individual is bigotry plain and simple. It is not what this country is about, and it is not what this city is about,” Sanders said.
Mateen, who was born in the U.S. but is of Afghan descent, called emergency services to pledge his allegiance to the Islamic State group from inside the nightclub, and the radical Islamist group has since claimed credit for the attack, according to media reports.
If there is any silver lining to the weekend’s tragedy, Sanders said, it is that it has brought people together.
“Our job is not up to allow politicians, Mr. Trump or anyone else to divide us by where our family came from, the color of our skin, our religion or our sexual orientation,” Sanders said, taking a shot at presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
The Islamic State is a barbaric organization that must be destroyed, Sanders said, but it’s important to understand that more than any people on earth it is Muslims that have suffered at its hands. It is also Muslim troops in Iraq and Syria leading the fight to destroy the Islamic State, he said.
Sanders also renewed calls for an assault weapon ban, saying that while Mateen obtained the weapons he used legally, it raises serious questions about whether the public should be able to buy a weapon designed for killing.
Mayor Miro Weinberger said he was saddened that for the second time during Pride Month that the Burlington community has had to come together to commemorate a tragedy, referring to an earlier vigil for Amos Beede, who was killed last month at a homeless camp. Beede was an active member of the region’s LGBTQ community.
The shooting in Orlando is yet another reminder to set aside differences, celebrate diversity and take care of one another, Weinberger said.
“We are all Vermonters, we are all Burlingtonians, and we need to come together and look out for one another,” Weinberger said.
Imam Islam Hassan, the Imam of a mosque in Colchester, said he was there to show solidarity and grieve for the victims of the Orlando attack, adding that the attack does not represent the Muslim religion.
Hassan said, “What happened is evil, and evil has no place here.”
Speaking before he addressed the crowd, Hassan said he was concerned that the Orlando attack could spark a backlash against Muslims in Vermont and across the country, however, events like Monday’s gave him confidence that, at least locally, there would be solidarity.
The Pride Center of Vermont published the following national resources for LGBT community members:
www.lgbtcenters.org – find listings of local LGBT community centers, check their websites for vigils and mental health services
www.glma.org — find listings of local LGBT friendly providers
www.radremedy.org — find listings of trans friendly health providers
www.psychologytoday.com — therapist listings nationally
www.helpstartshere.org — social worker listings nationally
www.translifeline.org – trans specific support services
www.trevorproject.org — LGBTQ youth specific support
741-741 – text START to the crisis text line for text support
Victims fund https://www.gofundme.com/PulseVictimsFund
For other ways to help www.eqfl.org/news/pulse