As members of Portland’s LGBTQ community took turns addressing the crowd that gathered at Portland’s Waterfront Park Sunday evening, Nikki Burian held a sign inscribed with the words “Stop Killing Us.”
Hundreds of people gathered in downtown Portland to mourn together, less than 24 hours after a lone gunman entered a popular gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and opened fire — killing 50 people and wounding more than 50 others.
“I think it’s really important that now more than ever the queer community comes together and refuses to give in to violence and clear acts of hate,” an emotional Burian said. “This is a hate crime through and through.”
Reeling from the violent attack, members of Portland’s LGBTQ community opted to spend the evening together at a pair of vigils Sunday.
Outside The Embers Avenue nightclub in Northwest Portland, hundreds gathered for the first of the two vigils.
Guthrie Murry was one of many who felt moved to join in a show of support.
“I was at home cleaning up and suddenly I had to go. I had to come here because my spirit wanted to come. It drove me here,” Murry said, with the sound of Portland’s Lesbian Choir in the background.
Murry said that he hoped Sunday’s events showed the LGBTQ community as a whole that the world supports them. “I guess what’s important is that we start to accept people for who they are and what they are.”
Though sadness was certainly in the air, solidarity was the theme of the night at both events. Addressing the crowd outside Embers, Eric Zimmerman, one of the co-organizers of the vigil, spoke of the community’s need to come together in moments of darkness.
“I knew I did not want to sit on my couch and watch my brothers and sisters in Orlando run from what is supposed to be a safe place,” Zimmerman told the crowd. “We’re not the only ones who want to mourn with friends. … Clearly the message that all of Portland has sent tonight is that we want to mourn together. We want to stand with Orlando together, and with the entire LGBTQ community, together.”
Members of Portland’s leadership were also in attendance Sunday to offer their signs of support. Portland Police Chief Donna Henderson and Mayor Charlie Hales both addressed the crowd Sunday, spreading a message of tolerance, respect and community. Both called on the city to not let fear and hate keep the LGBTQ community from celebrating who they are.
Earlier Sunday, Portland officials announced that Portland Pride Week festivities would feature a beefed up security presence. That presence was felt Sunday evening, as dozens of officers lined the blocked off streets outside Embers. But instead of sending an intimidating message, officers joined in lighting candles for those lost in Orlando and offered hugs to mourners.
Later in the evening, members of the LGBTQ community gathered along Portland’s Waterfront Park for another candlelight vigil. With the sounds of the Rose Festival in the background, individuals took turns sharing how they felt with the crowd. Many called on an end to hate and bigotry, while one member asked those in attendance to join her in a moment of anger, prompting a gut-wrenching scream from the hundreds of people in the crowd.
As the sun set on a tragic day and the candles illuminated dozens of tear-streaked faces, a little girl passed out flowers to members of the crowd, reminding them that everyone is loved.