The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts was bathed in rainbow light on Monday evening. A home to culture and arts, the center became the host of a vigil to commemorate the lives that were lost at the Pulse nightclub Sunday. People turned out by the thousands to grieve and show their support.
Throughout the two-hour event, a wide variety of speakers took the stage and shared their messages, including Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Florida House District 49 candidate Carlos Guillermo Smith.
“Hate will not define us. And hate will not defeat us, because we are one Orlando,” were the words spoken by Dyer to the crowd.
At dawn, after all the white candles had been passed out, the bells of the United Methodist Church rang exactly 49 times — one for every life lost in the Pulse attack. In a sea of more than 7,000 people, there was total silence, except for an occasional sob that would escape the mouth of mourner.
Many of those who came to the event were members of the Latino or LGBTQ communities and identified with the victims. One of those moved by the event was Valencia College student Blaine Collier. He is studying culinary arts and wants to stay in Orlando after graduating and work for a restaurant. Choking back tears, he said that the attack had affected him greatly.
“You hurt one of us, you hurt all of us. Its not just Orlando, Florida. It’s every country, everywhere … " he said. "I’m here because any one of these people could have been any one of us, could have been me. It just happened to not be. So I’m here because this where I need to be. This where I belong right now.”
The vigil was hosted by and organized by Equality Florida, a civil rights group that represents Florida’s LGBTQ population. Throughout the event, Charlie Barresi and Frank Maury leaned on each other for support. They have been a couple for six months.
“I woke up and had texts from friends asking if I was OK. I went on my phone and looked up what happened," Barresi recalled. "He [Frank] woke up right after that and I told him to 'check your phone tell your family that you're OK.' I used to go to Pulse a lot; I haven’t recently. The last thing that we did was go to watch a viewing of RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
Maury, a UCF student, shook his head. “I was in shock and disbelief. Something like that happens and you just don’t understand.”
Also attending the event were several alumni of the UCF chapter of the Delta Lambda Phi Social Fraternity. Delta Lambda Phi is a fraternity at UCF that offers membership to gay, bisexual and progressive men. Tyler Teegardin, a member of Delta Lambda Phi’s founding class was there to show solidarity and support. He graduated from UCF in 2012 with a degree in art history.
“My first reaction was 'Is everyone OK?'” he said. “We went into panic mode because we wanted to know if all of our current brothers were safe, if our alumni were safe. We had an alumni social that night at Savoy. Fortunately, none of the brothers were hurt.”
After a song from the Orlando Gay Chorus, the evening came to a close and darkness came over downtown. People lingered to talk and hold each other. Candles were gathered, lit and placed on the ground one by one to create a symbol of remembrance.
The last words of the evening were spoken by Joe Saunders, a former Orlando state representative and LBGT activist.
“We know that there will be more names put on that list. We know that there are still some who are fighting for their lives in that hospital right down the street,” Saunders said.
“So as we conclude our program, take care of each other. Take care of each other.”
Jillian James is a digital producer for the Central Florida Future. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org