Pulse shooting Video by Alex Storer, Central Florida Future
About 1,000 members of the UCF community filled every floor of the campus Student Union Tuesday night, looking over the Pegasus seal adorned with yellow roses and twinkling candles. Outside, Millican Hall was lit with the hues of the rainbow.
Organized by members of UCF's LGBTQ+ community and the school's Social Justice and Advocacy Office, the vigil honored the 49 victims killed in the Pulse nightclub shooting early Sunday. Pulse was like home to many student and alumni members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Originally slated to take place at Memory Mall, the vigil was moved inside due to severe weather. Still, many notable speakers came out to speak, including UCF President John C. Hitt, SGA President Chris Clemente, UCF alumnus and Florida House District 49 candidate Carlos Guillermo Smith, and Florida politician and LGBT activist Joe Saunders.
Saunders personally knew 32-year-old Christopher “Drew” Leinonen, who was one of the victims of the Pulse shooting. Leinonen received both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in psychology from UCF, and Saunders said that Leinonen had been at the forefront of LGBT activism from a young age and was a leader in the Gay-Straight Alliance group at his high school. Saunders and Leinonen ran in the same social circles during their time at UCF and were involved in the same clubs.
“We lost Drew on Saturday. We lost his boyfriend Juan," Saunders said. "And we lost them in a place that was ours, and a place that was meant to be safe … our bars aren’t bars to us. They aren’t places to just sing and dance and drink. They are the safest spaces for us. If there’s no other place you can be yourself, it's Pulse Orlando.”
Leinonen's boyfriend Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22, was a pre-finance major
“To the victims of this attack, and their loved ones and friends, I offer the sincere prayers and hopes of the entire UCF family,” Hitt said, wearing a white ribbon on his shirt.
Many of the people who attended the vigil were LGBTQ+ students at UCF. Julia Lozada said she met her girlfriend of two years at Pulse. She knew both of the UCF victims from mutual friends.
“About half the people that died I knew by acquaintance, just by being there at [Pulse] all the time … I’ve laughed with them, I’ve danced with them,” she said, fighting back tears.
Many LGBTQ+ students openly wept and held their partners during the vigil.
Carlos Guillermo Smith, a UCF alumnus and gay Latino, gave a passioned speech to the crowd.
“Thank you, UCF and the entire world community, for your acts of kindness," he said. "We are reeling from this tragic news that a deranged gunman full of hate opened fire at our Pulse, leaving 49 of our own people dead.
“This horrific act was intended to send a message of hate against Latino and LGBT people, which in turn is an attack on all humanity.”
After the vigil, many students gathered around the Pegasus seal and openly wept. They leaned on each other and cried into each other’s shoulders.
For those who were emotionally affected by the Pulse shooting, UCF Counseling and Psychological Services will have clinicians available at the Student Union room 313 from noon to 1 p.m. and in Pride Commons from 10 am. to 3 p.m. each day this week.
Jillian James is a digital producer for the Central Florida Future. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org