Healing, hope and compassion were the dominant themes expressed Thursday at the Sundial Bridge as a crowd in excess of 500 gathered for a vigil in support of the 49 people killed by a lone gunman Sunday at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
“That was my family that passed away in Orlando,” said event organizer Carrie Jo Diamond, the chairwoman of NorCal OUTreach Project. “The LBGT community is our one source of love,” she said while encouraging her community members to acknowledge their anger “but act out of peace.”
The vigil started under a threatening sky as Redding Mayor Missy McArthur read a proclamation honoring those who were killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and expressing the city’s support for members of the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender communities.
The mayor also was clearly impressed by the number of people gathered for the vigil at the north end of the Sundial Bridge. “I’m so proud of Redding,” she said with a smile from the lectern. “Look at you all!”
Nisa Donnelly’s remarks were considerably less sunny. She urged the audience to disregard news media reports that suggested the Orlando shooting was a terrorist attack. “Make no mistake: we were the targets,” she said, referring to the LBGT community.
She drew a parallel between the Orlando attack and the July 1999 shooting deaths of Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder, a gay couple living in Happy Valley who were killed by two white supremacist brothers from Palo Cedro. In both cases, she said, “hatred and homophobia loaded the gun.”
Donnelly argued for a retaliatory response: “Make that first shot count – we are not going down without a fight.”
Nikolas Lane Gilliam, the vigil’s emcee who introduced himself as both queer and transgender, said the attack in Orlando shouldn’t come as a complete surprise, given the lack of tolerance and compassion in the Florida resort city and elsewhere. Being a queer in Orlando was a felony not many years ago, Gilliam said.
Another grim coincidence, according to Gilliam: Sunday was Latin American pride night at the Pulse nightclub and the bulk of the victims were Hispanic; Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump has made immigration and a proposed wall between the United States and Mexico the principal parts of his campaign.
“We need support now. We need our community to be a safe place, and we need to show that we are going to live,” Gilliam said.
Hayley Lack, a Foothill High School student who fought for the right to campaign with her girlfriend for prom royalty, noted that the 49 people killed in Orlando were sons, daughters, mothers and fathers—49 full and active lives that deserved the right to celebrate with other members of their community.
“It’s OK to be afraid,” she said, “but one day we won’t have to be afraid. To get there, we have to fight and we have to love.”
Marc Dadigan, speaking on behalf of Shasta County Citizens Advocating Respect, brought up the history of attacks on Native Americans in the Redding area (including raids on Wintu villages on the present-day Turtle Bay property) and urged the audience to not fall victim to coded language and racist stereotypes that continue today.
“Stand up to the rhetoric; don’t let anybody define you,” he said.
Sharon Brisolara talked about the intimidation she felt as a straight person while attending a predominantly gay concert in the 1980s and how that experience emphasized the importance of making members of all communities feel welcome and accepted.
“Our communities have serious issues to address,” she said, citing homelessness and the lack of mental health services, “and we can’t solve them without each other.”
As a soft rain began to fall, the vigil concluded with a flower and bell ceremony as the names of the 49 Orlando victims were read aloud. Guitarist Dick Sorenson then led the crowd with a rendition of “The Great Storm is Over.”
Photos by Jon Lewis.