Candles at the vigil at Barbara Hall Park LISA POWER/THE VARSITY

Pride Month celebrations were interrupted in the wake of the June 12 mass shooting in Orlando, Florida at the Pulse nightclub. A gunman opened fire on the crowd; 49 people were killed and 53 were injured.

Several commemorative ceremonies took place in Toronto, including three at the University of Toronto. U of T’s Sexual & Gender Diversity Office organized a commemoration at Hart House Circle, while the Equity and Diversity Office hosted a memorial at UTSC’s The Meeting Place.

LGBTOUT and the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students (APUS) held a vigil at King’s College Circle, where Julian Oliveira, member of LGBTOUT and organizer for the vigil, expressed his feelings about the tragedy: “The club was populated by queer and trans and Latinx performers and community members who stand with the queer and racialized communities in Orlando. We are suffering this loss together.”

Oliveira continued, “The answer to queerphobia is not Islamaphobia. We should not allow people to skew our knowledge of the facts, of what is right, and we must not let ourselves be tricked. We must stand together with other oppressed communities, for we are all fighting for equality, we are all fighting for love.”

The names of each of the victims were read out loud and the microphone was offered to anyone who wished to address the crowd. Several people expressed grief and praised the community’s support. A canvas was laid out and the audience was encouraged to leave messages.

A Toronto-wide vigil was held at Barbara Hall Park the night after the shooting. Several local leaders and politicians were present to address the hundreds of attendees.

“This doesn’t represent the sentiment or the actions of any faith,” Mayor of Toronto John Tory told The Varsity. “It doesn’t represent anybody except very deranged, clearly deranged persons and we’ll learn more about it in the days to come. But here, look around us tonight and there are people that can tell you how Toronto deals with these things, which is to stand in solidarity with each other.”

Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam also addressed the crowd.

“Our social miracle as we know it in Toronto, in Ontario, in Canada can never be taken for granted,” Wong-Tam said. “And we have to let the people of the Americas know that we stand with them and that violence cannot be tolerated. And we will only ever respond to that type of violence with more love.”

Representatives from the LGBTQ community stressed the importance of community, while all shared a similar message of tolerance and understanding.

El-Farouk Khaki, community leader and Muslim-Queer activist, reminded the crowd of the involvement that the Queer-Muslim community has in Toronto.

“I come speaking for the Toronto Unity Mosque, for Universalists Muslims, and for the Salaam Queer-Muslim community: we don’t stand with you, we are you,” said Khaki. “So I stand with you as your brother, as your sibling in humanity, and I am given hope by the joy and by the unity. Unity is not sameness, but it is the celebration of our differences and our diversity.”

Toronto’s Pride celebrations are expected to continue as planned in the following weeks. “We still have to be vigilant,” said Tory. “We got to make it better, make sure it’s safe this coming month, which it will be.”

 

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