Hundreds of people gathered in Uptown Waterloo June 16 to take part in the Waterloo Region’s candlelight vigil for the Orlando shootings that occurred June 12.
The vigil, which was organized by the Waterloo Region’s Rainbow Coalition and The Order, consisted of talks and stories from local politicians, members of LGBTQ services, and members of the community. A moment of silence and a silent candlelight walk to King and Princess Street also took place to commemorate the victims of the Orlando shootings.
The Orlando shootings occurred during a Latin Night at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Considered to be the worst mass shooting in American history, approximately 49 people who were part of the LGBTQ community or supported the LGBTQ community were killed, and 53 were wounded by a perpetrator who apparently pledged allegiance to the terror organization ISIS. The majority of those killed and wounded were also people of colour.
“Our community must band together, to reaffirm our support for one another; to counteract the fear, anxiety, and sense of isolation that events like [the Orlando Shootings] can generate”, said the opening speaker Jeremy Steffler.
This mass hate crime caused uproar in LGBTQ and Muslim communities around the world, including the Waterloo region.
“I spent 30 plus years working in the news media and in those years, there were so many of these events we would report on time and time and time again,” said Daiene Vernile, Liberal MPP of Kitchener Centre when speaking with Imprint. “I would see the cycle that we would get into… the act of violence occurs. And then you have this debate about gun control. And then you have this rise of Islamophobia. And then you have the psychological counselling that comes out of this… And it’s making me angry and frustrated and I wonder, when are we going to break this cycle of violence?”
Many others voiced the same frustration during the vigil as well. “For the life of me, I can’t understand how some [people] in a nation can justify a right to bear automatic weapons based on a constitutional time that saw a musket as the largest weapon available,” said Kitchener mayor Berry Vrbanovic during the vigil.
The vigil also acknowledged that incidents like the Orlando shootings are not just a problem within the United States, but within our city as well. As Suzie Taka of the Rainbow Reels Queer and Trans Film Festival mentioned during her speech, Waterloo was claimed to be the hate crime capital of Canada in 2009.
“Yes it may feel a bit different here, but it’s not that different … for a lot of us, this isn’t shocking,” said Suzie Taka.
Some LGBTQ community members within Waterloo were even victims of hate crimes themselves. Sunna Murphy from Spectrum, a community space for LGBTQ members, spoke about how she knows people close to her who have been physically attacked for being gay. She herself was once hit on the head by a rock from a passing car when walking her girlfriend home.
“If they’d hit me two inches higher, I wouldn’t be here,” said Murphy during the vigil.
Community members also expressed that simply acknowledging and accepting the legitimacy of the LGBTQ members is not enough to solve this issue of injustice and violence.
“It’s not as simple as love is love. It’s not as simple as tolerance, as acceptance,” said Taka during the vigil. “I didn’t wait 28 years to come out to be tolerated and queer and trans people have not been fighting battles for just love. We’ve been fighting to live.”
NDP MPP of Kitchener-Waterloo Catherine Fife also voiced the same opinion, stating that more laws need to be implemented for the LGBTQ community to have the same level of equality as everyone else. “In Ontario, this province, we are still fighting for LGBT parental rights. This needs to end. We are still fighting for gender affirming ID for non-binary community members. This also needs to end,” said Fife.
Fife also emphasized how LGBTQ programs like Spectrum need to be funded even more so. “They need money for programming to inspire, to educate, and to connect.”
Along with making changes in improving the LGBTQ community, speakers at the vigil also emphasized how the mentality around the Muslim community also needs to be changed.
“If we are truly committed to making sure this never happens again, we cannot turn to Islamophobia, or the false characterization of people with mental health get diagnoses as violent perpetrators,” said Fife. “Instead, we need to further access and inclusion of all people in society. It is not enough to feel. We must act.”
Fauzia Mazhar and Sarah Shafiq of the Interfaith Grand River group and the Coalition of Muslim Women KW spoke on behalf of the Muslim community. “Using the words of the Delaware Council on Global and Muslim Affairs, the Coalition of Muslim Women of KW would like you to know that [the] LGBTQ community has the right to live their lives according to their values and beliefs just as Muslims have the right to live according to their lives and beliefs,” said Mazhar.
Tichaona Ekhaya, a participant in the vigil, also stepped up to speak to the community on how people of colour should be better in supporting people of colour who are also part of the LGBTQ community.
“As a black person I understand what it is to be marginalized,” said Ekhaya. “I understand [how] it is to be denied rights that everyone else has. So I cannot for the life of me understand why people of colour would want to bring that upon other people [of the LGBTQ community], to experience that same pain … let’s step up, my friends.”
While there are many improvements that need to be made in order to promote equality amongst the LGBTQ community, the vigil also acknowledged the progress that has been made over the past several years.
“We’ve had to fight for a lot,” said Bradley Hamacher, also known as local drag performer Miss Drew. “From equal rights, benefits equality, pension entitlement, tax equality, protection from hate crime, then we had to band together for AIDS intervention, good medicine for HIV, dignitive palliative care, adoption rates, married equality — we have won so much.”
Charles “Charley” Ley from the UW Glow Centre for Sexual Gender and Diversity also chimed in with the same thoughts.
“By being here, you are supporting every single one of [the victims],” said Ley when addressing the community during the vigil. “That is why we are a community. That is our strength. That is how we’ve achieved so much in the last 50 years. And we will continue fighting, with love and with pride.”