Amid pride month festivities in Boston, a crowd gathered at Cambridge City Hall for a somber reflection on the shooting at a queer nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Members of Cambridge’s school board, interfaith communities and local government were present as Mayor E. Denise Simmons remarked on the tragedy.
The shooter entered Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and opened fire, killing predominantly queer Latinx people. Fifty people were killed, and over 50 wounded.
Evoking Martin Luther King, Jr., Mayor Simmons implored her community to unite in the wake of last Sunday’s events, saying, “I cannot be what you ought to be until you are what you ought to be.”
“We must vow to come together and find constructive, meaningful ways to stop this senseless violence,” said Simmons.
Many members of the crowd were open members of the LGBTQ+ community, wearing bracelets and brandishing rainbow flags from Saturday’s pride parade. Parents, children and people of all ages attended, including someone in a unicorn onesie and a baby wearing a rainbow lei, holding a sign that read “love not hate.”
Mayor Simmons asked local police officers, ministers and city officials to gather behind her on the steps of Cambridge City Hall.
“I want everyone to gather on the steps behind me,” Simmons said, “so all of you can see the support that you have.”
As a queer trans man living in Boston, I was heartened to see Mayor Simmons urge local officials to support the queer community, but I still felt alone. As I sat on the hill outside of Cambridge City Hall, staring up at the half-masted pride flag, it crossed my mind that the people gathered around me were looking for closure as much as justice.
I stumbled upon this event as an accident. On my way home from a much-needed appointment with my therapist, I walked by the crowd. At the crosswalk, painted rainbow for pride, the policeman I’d asked told me, “I don’t know what’s going on—they’re having some sort of demonstration for Orlando.”
I almost ignored this event at City Hall for fear of my own mental stability. Waking up on Sunday morning to mobile alerts from the Associated Press and learning that 50 of my community members were massacred drained me.
I watched news outlets turn my people into an infographic and a body count. I learned that the shooter is dead but felt no safer knowing this. I vomited in the shower, then sat on the edge of the tub, waiting to cry, trying to scream, but producing nothing but a faint gust of air. I called my grandmother, who lives in Tampa, and learned that she was connected to four people whose children were at Pulse that night, three of whom died.
Pride week festivities were still going on in Jamaica Plain. I called my friends and asked that we abstain for fear of our safety. I went with my partner to a comedy show in Fanueil Hall, where I listened to a man use transgender women and gay men as the butt of his ill-constructed jokes, no less than 24 hours after a club full of LGBTQ+ people were mowed down by a bigot’s Sig Sauer MCX semiautomatic rifle.
Walking home alone, I felt unsafe. It felt like someone was following me. Shadows cast by headlights onto neighboring buildings looked like shadows of men—like the one who stood on a stage in front of me and said he didn’t think gay men should be allowed to be waiters because “they had a different idea of a good time” than he did.
The next day, I sat with my therapist and tried to talk about my own queer and trans-ness, but instead, I ended up rambling, spewing rhetoric about how insane it was to me that a man who was on an FBI watch list for terrorism and was a domestic abuser managed to get his hands on a gun. I forgot my own whirlwind of a body in the midst of a gun-control rant and then I remembered it as soon as my therapist asked me if I felt safe on the streets of Boston: a city where the same act of hate could happen, despite it’s remarkable legal tolerance.
Later, I found myself at Cambridge City Hall. As Mayor Simmons concluded her remarks, I listened to a pastor at a local church describe our overwhelming need to love each other in the face of a crisis.
I almost collapsed during the moment of silence Mayor Simmons asked the crowd to take.
And then a man I didn’t know, who gripped my shoulder as he passed, gave me a glance that said, “I understand this feeling, but it will be okay.”
On Wednesday, I called my family and told them I was transgender, so that—heaven forbid something like this ever happens in my city—everyone I love will know who I am and how I lived.
My family tried to reassure me that the Orlando shooting was an isolated incident, not something reminiscent of past hatred nor representative of how our country views queer people and queer people of color as a whole.
“You have to understand,” they said, “this was random. You guys aren’t under attack.”
I beg to differ. We have been under attack for generations. And yet, I can understand why someone who hasn’t ever had close personal ties to the queer or Latinx community would say this.
But Orlando wasn’t that random. Fourteen transgender people have already been killed this year, and in a recent Williams Institute study, it was found that LGBTQ+ people were 50 percent more likely to be the target of a hate crime than any other minority group in the United States.
It’s no coincidence that the largest mass shooting in U.S. history targeted queer people. Certain journalists or media outlets might point to the fact that the FBI found the shooter had used gay dating apps as justification for his actions, claiming that because he was “closeted,” he harbored a wealth of pent-up aggression. This does not matter. This man killed 50 of us with a weapon designed for war.
At City Hall, I encountered Ari Belathar, a resident of Everett, Massachusetts. Belathar worked as a journalist in Mexico before moving to the United States and marrying her wife, who was also at the vigil. Belathar carried a sign reading: “We don’t hate Islam, we hate homophobia, gun violence and the war industry! Queer Latinxs against homophobia.”
Her wife’s sign said, “It takes more courage to hold a stranger’s hand than to hold a gun—queers against gun violence.”
“I think it’s really important to be clear about what this is all about,” Belathar said. “It’s not about one religion against all of us, it’s about the act of a person whose sick ideology drove him to believe he was superior to others.”
Several people who identified themselves as Muslim approached Belathar and asked to hug her and take pictures of the sign.
“I appreciate this so much,” said a teary-eyed woman. “This means so much to us. Thank you for knowing this isn’t all of us.”
Many hearts are still in mourning, and this incident will leave it’s mark—that is, without question. But no one can snuff out the humanity and the intelligence and the passion I witnessed at that Vigil.
[Note: A previous version of this article called the shooter’s rifle an AR-15; this was incorrect and has been updated.]
All photos: Sam Amore