Love others unconditionally, embody who you are First ever raising of the Pride flag at UW

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June 12, 2016 – the day of the deadliest mass shooting on American soil. 49 people who identify as LGBTQ+ were having a fun time at Pulse Nightclub when they lost their lives.

The shooting shook the community, the state, the country, and the world.

One year later, on a day specifically chosen by the GLOW Centre on campus, community members raised the first ever pride flag on UW campus.

It was a small intimate gathering with students and staff from all over campus, including Mahejabeen Ebrahim, Director of Equity; Diana Parry, Special Advisor to the President on Women’s and Gender Issues; and Chris Read, Associate Provost for Students.

Charley Peitzmeier, Glow Centre coordinator said as the flag was being prepared, “Now, as most of you may know, this exciting and proud moment comes with a bitter note…. One year ago today, 49 members of the LGBT+ community – most of them queer Latinx, people of colour – lost their lives.”

Antonio Brieva, FEDs President also took some time to recount his experience of that night. “On this night my mom called me, crying, admitting to me she feared for my physical safety — which was not a feeling new to me walking through life as a gay male. She even encouraged me to skip Pride festivities in Toronto last year in fear that a similar attack might target the community on a larger scale.”

This request really put things into perspective,” he continued. “After the shock and sadness passed in the weeks after, I realized that if I chose not to attend Pride as per my mom’s request, I’d be letting fear win. I’d be letting the killer, who took those LGBTQ+ lives away, win. The fact that this attack happened during Pride month in a designated safe space is a harsh reminder of how far we still are, as an LGBTQ+ community and its allies, from achieving true equality.”

Brieva asked that “instead of pinning this attack on an entire religion, we look deep inside” ourselves and our surroundings for legitimization of homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of discrimination in order to work against them.

Although this attack happened in the United States, Brieva acknowledged the progress he sees Canada — and its post-secondary schools — still has to make. “We have professors that use their positions and identities of power to openly refuse to acknowledge their students’ humanity and non-binary identities. They’re celebrated as champions of free speech and academic freedom — dangerously legitimizing the zero-sum fallacy that marginalized groups’ gains and the quest for equality and equity are a threat to others …

“We have political leaders winning party leaderships who have a lengthy record of voting against all the advances the LGBTQ+ community has made over the years in Canada,” he continued. “The advancement of free speech and academic freedom does not have to come at the expense of the advancement of the LGBTQ+ community or vice-versa.”

The flag raising was followed by a silent walk through campus to the Rock Garden. Here students, community members, and staff were allowed to share their stories. Words of strength, support, courage, and love were shared.

GLOW had set up a tree with 49 branches. Attendees were asked to come up one by one and take a petal with a name on it. There was one petal for each victim that was lost at Pulse Night Club.

Some attendees were asked to stay back and talk if they needed a moment to gather their thoughts.

Peitzmeier also took a moment to share a personal story, “One year ago I spoke at the vigil in Kitchener, and in preparation for the event tonight I re-read my speech at home. And I realized that I don’t think I would be able to give it again. However what I would like to do is repeat the last part of that speech, because I feel it applies as much today as it did one year ago, as it will, one year from now: 

“Take a look around. Take a look around and see the amazing, strong and beautiful people that have come out here tonight, to remember, to heal and to fight. Every single person here has come to give their support. Every single person here has come to support you. And by being here, you are supporting every single one of them.

“That is why we are a community. That is our strength. That is how we have achieved so much in the last 50 years. And we will continue fighting, with love and with pride, a system that nurtures hatred and allows for tragedies like this one to happen. For us. For the ones we love. For Pulse.  

“It is the least we can do.”