- Enrique Limón
The knee-jerk thoughts and prayers settled, like Monday's raindrops, members and allies of the local LGBTQ community trickled onto the the Salt Lake City and County Building's lawn to gather and find comfort after Sunday's mass shooting inside an Orlando, Fla., club that left 49 dead and 53 injured.
The setting was surreal given that just a week earlier, that same patch of grass was the scene for arguably the most well-attended Utah Pride celebration in history. On Monday, however, trench coats replaced tank tops, umbrellas were favored over glow sticks, and joy made way to sobbing.
"Many straight people worry about sharing a bathroom, queer people worry about being murdered for existing," community activist Leslie Shaw said. "That's not OK."
Shaw reiterated her support of the Latinx community, denounced the number of anti-LGBTQ pieces of legislation that have been introduced nationwide since same-sex marriage became legal, and drew attention to the importance of gay-specific bars and gathering places.
"If you cannot wrap your head around a bar or club being a sanctuary, you've probably never been afraid to hold someone's hand in public," she said.
Another speaker, Lt. Governor Spencer J. Cox, started with "an admission and an apology." The former was that he is a straight, white, middle-aged, Republican "with all of the expectations and privileges that come with those labels." The apology was to those kids he went to school with in Mount Pleasant, those that were different. "Sometimes I wasn't kind to them," Cox said in a cracked voice. "I didn't know it at the time, but I know now they were gay. I regret not treating them with the kindness, dignity and respect; the love that they deserved."
Cox further said he was sad, angry and confused, and underscored that those dead are "not just statistics. These were individuals, human beings. They each have a story; they each had dreams, goals, talents, friends, family. They are you and they are me."
Interfaith leader Noor Ul-Hasan took the opportunity to preach divine love and acceptance. "I think there's a lot of love for eachother out there and [today's group] want to make sure that they are heard as individuals and as a group of people," Ul-Hasan told City Weekly after her speech. "They have rights equal to everybody else; they have a right to exist and they are children of God just like everybody else."
"The Muslims in Utah, we're your friends, you don't have to fear us," Ul-Hasan said, stressing that regardless of the rhetoric that's flooding the 24-hour news cycle, this is a time to unite.
"The main thing is, that if you're a person of faith, you cannot say that there's a group of people that you hate, that you don't want to have around and that you want to have aggression toward," she said. "That's not part of anything. That's not part of any God or creator, because whether you are similar, different—you know, black, white, Hispanic, Muslim, Christian, Jew—it doesn't matter because we were all created from God, so why would we feel that we have a right over anybody else to eliminate that being? On behalf of who?"
Several in the audience carried signs remembering the victims' names. Many wore top hats in honor of Edward Sotomayor Jr., who was known for donning a chapeau. Lifetime Salt Lake City resident Pete Liacopoulos took a different approach. Propped by a tree, the 52-year-old set up an American flag and a couple of hand-scribbled signs. One of them read "Omar burn in Hell," referring to the gunman.
"You don't go around doing that. This is a despicable act right here," Liacopoulos said. "I'm angry, because anybody here, if it happened to their child, they would feel the same way than those people do—madder than hell, lost."
In an evening filled with poignant moments, Cox asked members of the straight community in particular: "How did you feel when you heard that 49 people had been gunned down by a self-proclaimed terrorist? That's the easy question. Here's the hard one: Did that feeling change when you found out that the shooting was at a gay bar at 2 a.m. in the morning?"