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      'It Affects Us All': Vigils Held Around the World for Victims of Orlando Nightclub Massacre

      'It Affects Us All': Vigils Held Around the World for Victims of Orlando Nightclub Massacre 'It Affects Us All': Vigils Held Around the World for Victims of Orlando Nightclub Massacre 'It Affects Us All': Vigils Held Around the World for Victims of Orlando Nightclub Massacre
      Vigil in Toronto for victims of the Orlando shooting. (Photo by Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

      Americas

      'It Affects Us All': Vigils Held Around the World for Victims of Orlando Nightclub Massacre

      By Rachel Browne

      Jacob Gal burst into tears as he recalled waking up Sunday morning to news of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, the deadliest in US history. Hundreds of people walked past him inside Toronto's Barbara Hall Park, in the heart of the city's LGBT district, for a candlelight vigil that evening to show solidarity and mourn the deaths of 50 people, and the more than 50 others who were injured.

      "It happened far away, but it affects us all," Gal, a community organizer for York Pride Fest in Toronto, said as he wept. "It strikes us here at home."

      Other LGBT communities around the world also gathered in the aftermath of the Sunday attack to show their support.

      Shots were fired between 2 and 5 am Sunday morning into a crowd of people drinking and dancing at Pulse, a popular club in downtown Orlando. Gunman Omar Siddiqui Mateen was eventually shot and killed following an hours-long standoff with police. Mateen's father told NBC News that his son became angry upon seeing two men kissing in Miami a couple of months ago.

      According to news reports, Mateen pledged allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State in a 911 phone call just before the attack took place. Law enforcement are treating the incident as an act of terrorism.

      The night after the attack, dozens of impromptu vigils were held in cities across the US, including in Newtown, Connecticut, the scene of the mass shooting at a children's school in 2012, and at the Stonewall Inn, the gay bar in New York City considered the birthplace of the gay rights movement, where a rally for victims turned into a march on Union Square.

      In Paris, about 100 people — many wearing rainbow and American flags and carrying signs that said "Proud" and "To Orlando, we have love" — came together at Place Igor Stravinsky to light candles for those who lost their lives. On Monday, Londoners will hit the streets of Soho to pay their respects.

      The group's Facebook page, London Stands with Orlando, urges people to donate to LGBT rights group Equality Florida.

      Nearly 400 people showed up in Sydney Australia for a vigil Monday night, as the Sydney Harbor Bridge glowed with rainbow lights. "Particularly when you go to a venue like a gay club, you expect that to be one of the places where you feel safe and supported," said one attendee.

      The Orlando attack has served as a stark reminder of the ongoing discrimination and violence faced by LGBT people in the US and abroad — including LGBT Muslims.


      The vigil in Toronto comes as the city kicked off its first-ever Pride month, ahead of the Pride parade in July, one of the biggest LGBT festivals in the world.

      "Someone asked me 'Why Pride?" Ontario's premier Kathleen Wynne, the first woman and openly gay premier elected in Canada, told the audience. "Because, Orlando."

      "What happened in Orlando happened to all of us," Wynne continued.

      Before candles were lit, many prominent local and federal politicians and LGBT Muslim activists spoke to the crowd about Islamophobia, and what the events in Orlando mean for the community. Pride organizers have said there will be heightened security and police presence at events throughout the month.


      "Last night was a moment of hatred," one of the organizers told the crowd, before someone read out the first verses of the Quran in Arabic. "Tonight, we have to say that do not give into hatred and fear."

      One Toronto city councillor, Kristyn Wong-Tam, introduced her "queer Muslim fiancée" Farrah Khan to the audience — speaking publicly about their engagement for the first time.

      "When people hate queers, they hate us. When people hate Muslims, they hate us," Wong-Tam added. "We will never be silent or be silenced."

      Khan, a well-known sexual violence activist in Toronto, later told VICE News it's more important than ever for queer Muslims to come out of the shadows in the wake of the events in Orlando. "We have been in fear for so long ... Queer Muslims exist and we are going to be a part of our community," she said. "We need everyone to address Islamophobia, that [the gunman] does not define our community."

      After most of the crowd has dissipated, two young women, Sophie and Kristina sat on a ledge holding hands. Two flickering candles sat on the rainbow flag they placed near their feet.


      "We're here for all of our friends who were too scared to come here because they thought it was too dangerous," said Sophie. "Everyone is worried about what could happen, because it could happen here or anywhere at any time. You never know."

      "Having pride is being open about who you are. And we have worked so very hard to get here, and we cannot give into fear, because that means we've lost."

      Related: America's LGBT Community Is Reeling After the Orlando Nightclub Massacre

      Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne

      Topics: orlando, americas, toronto, lgbt, florida, omar siddiqui mateen, mass shooting, united states of america, canada, islamic state, gay rights, muslim

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