More than 1,000 New Yorkers made their way to the historic Stonewall Inn on Sunday evening, where a vigil was being held in memory of those killed in the mass shooting at an Orlando gay club in the early hours that day.
The attack began at around 2 am when gunman Omar Siddique Mateen opened fire inside Pulse, a popular dance spot in downtown Orlando that was hosting a Latin night. After taking hostages and an hours-long standoff, Mateen was killed in a shootout with police shortly before 6am. 49 people were killed, and another 53 hospitalized.
Mateen's father, Mir Siddique, told NBC News that the incident "had nothing to do with religion," but said he recalled his son becoming enraged after he witnessed two men kissing in downtown Miami several months ago.
President Obama described the shooting – which was the worst gun massacre in American history – as both an act of terror and an act of hate.
"This is an especially heartbreaking day for the LGBT community," Obama said, adding that an attack on sexual orientation or gender is an "attack on all of us."
Gay rights advocates, community organizers and Muslim leaders addressed the sea of people who had come to pay their respects. They talked about recurring violence targeting the LGBT community, about how Mateen violated a sacred space when he opened fire in a gay nightclub, and about how the recent anti-trans rhetoric surrounding the North Carolina bathroom bill means that the Orlando massacre "didn't take place in a vacuum."
There were 50 roses laid out on the ground in front of the Stonewall Inn – the site of the struggle for gay rights in the 1960's – symbolizing the 50 people who died. (It wasn't known at the time that the 50th person counted in reports was the attacker himself.) People lit candles, waved rainbow flags and placed white lilies at the memorial. "This is where the whole gay revolution began," said a woman at the vigil, Cathy Wakeham. "I've been active in the gay community since the late Sixties. Just whenever we think we have a victory, it's like one step forwards, two steps back.
Mirna Haidar, a representative from the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity, talked about the complex intersection of her identity in the US as a Muslim refugee and as a gender non-conforming woman. Haider urged the LGBT community to refrain from turning an act of hate into discrimination against Muslims. At one point, as Haidar was speaking, somebody in the crowd began shouting "It is a Muslim issue."
"There's always a shooting. They're so frequent now, I thought i was immune to them until today," said Gregory Robinson. "I'm an African American. I know pain. I know the gun. But I also know we are strong resilient people, and we will bounce back.
Security in New York City was ramped up after the Orlando massacre. Heavily armed members of NYPD's counter-terrorism unit were monitoring the event.
"In the good times, we have gathered here, and in the bad times we've gathered here, "Ann Northrop, journalist and legendary gay rights activist, told the crowd. After the Supreme Court handed down the landmark ruling making gay marriage legal throughout all the United States last year, thousands poured into the area to celebrate. In 1998, people gathered to mourn the murder of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old openly gay student who was beaten, tortured and killed.
Many of the speakers stressed that the mass shooting in Orlando is not an isolated event when it comes to violence against the LGBT community, and contextualized what happened with the ongoing nationwide debate about gender and same-sex bathrooms.
"I think we have to be really careful about how this violence could keep spreading," said Isabelle Sousa. "We're in a critical moment of culture shift... As a trans person i'm seeing this moment where binary genders are being challenged because they didn't adequately represent the entire population. It's hard for people to understand that."
The attack came at a time when the country is celebrating its annual LGBT Pride month, which has been observed since the 1970s after the Stonewall Riots in New York.
Before Sunday, the deadliest attack on the LGBT community was in 1973 at a bar in New Orleans that also hosted church services. In that incident, a fireball burst through the club's front door, killing 32 people. No one was ever prosecuted.
"This affects the whole community," said Severely Mame (pictured above with Hysteé Lauder). "It targeted our brothers and sisters who were in a safe space." Obama, too, in his remarks recognized the symbolic significance of gay bars in the US. "The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live," the president said on Sunday. "The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub – it is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights."
At least 200 people left the Stonewall Inn area and marched towards Union Square, shutting down traffic along 14th street. When they got to the square, some marchers lay down in the middle of the road as part of a "die-in."