Charlotte’s LGBT community came out by the hundreds Monday night for a candlelight vigil in support of the 49 victims of a mass murder this weekend at an Orlando, Fla., gay bar.
As many as 600 people crowded into the parking lot of The Bar at 316 off South Boulevard, their cars filling lots and side streets for blocks in every direction.
Their message: We are not terrorized and we are not going away.
It was a message delivered in tears, in preaching and in fiery political rhetoric.
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“There are people out there that hate us,” Melissa Morris of Charlotte LGBT Chamber of Commerce told the crowd. “There are people out there actively working against us to get votes. There are people out there slaughtering us, and we have to be there for each other.”
The vigil was one of two held in the city Monday evening to honor the victims. The first, held at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department on Trade Street, started with 49 seconds of silence: one second for each of the 49 slain victims.
Mecklenburg Ministries and the Charlotte Coalition for Social Justice will host another vigil Tuesday, an interfaith service at 6 p.m. at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 115 W. Seventh St. in uptown.
Monday’s event at The Bar at 316 was held at a nightclub, because that’s where the Orlando shootings took place.
Charlotte LGBT activist Matt Comer told the crowd gathered outside the bar that the shootings in Orlando were all the more troubling because they occurred in a place where LGBT people felt safe.
“If you are straight, you don’t understand the significance of an attack on an (LGBT) bar. Please understand, when you had your churches, your families and your schools (for comfort), we had our bars,” said Comer, who is among the organizers of the city’s annual gay pride celebration, Charlotte Pride.
“We will continue this movement … because we have to. If we don’t stand up to them, they win.”
LGBT community activist Shane Windmeyer helped organize the vigil at The Bar at 316. He said he’s been worried for months that a recent series of court rulings favoring gay rights would eventually lead to acts of violence against the community. However, he never suspected the death toll would be as violent as what happened in Orlando.
“I’ve been more concerned about safety in my life since the Supreme Court said gays had the right to marry. With greater visibility comes greater danger and the chance for senseless tragedy,” Windmeyer said.
“Every time there has been a civil rights movement giving people more freedom, there has also been a backlash.”