Local vigils spark in light of Orlando shooting


BENNINGTON — Far north, those in support of or who are members of the LGBTQIA+ community experience many emotions after mourning the Orlando Pulse nightclub tragedy, with the result of strength in hope and unity.

LGBTQIA+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexuality and the plus sign for all other sexualities and genders that aren't included.

Even though the county doesn't host any pride events, Burlington, Brattleboro, Rutland and surrounding New York and Massachusetts towns do. Julia Guilia has lived in Pownal and Bennington her entire life and attended a candlelight vigil hosted by the Pride Center of the Capital Region Monday night to stand with others mourning the loss of 49 individuals. Fifty-three people who attended the nightclub were injured. All identities have yet to be released to the public.

Guilia is a member of the Facebook page, Greater Bennington LGBTQ, and runs a group called Non-conformative lifestyle choices.

"In this day and age, this sort of tragedy should not be happening," she said. "This is why so many people are afraid to come out, because there are so many other people who want to hate on us. It's ridiculous, because who does it affect? Our being gay, transgender, or any of that, it doesn't affect you. It affects us, it's who we are."

Folks on social media everywhere are demonstrating their support for the victims, or disapproval of the themes surrounding the massacre by changing profile pictures to rainbow colored images or a black ribbon displaying the nightclub's logo. Others comment on various media outlets about the shooter's motive, religious affiliation, and previous criminal history.

President Barack Obama delivered a speech Sunday and said, "I think we all recognize that this could have happened anywhere in this country The fact that it took place at a club frequented by the LGBT community I think is also relevant... The one thing that we can say is that this is being treated as a terrorist investigation," according to the White House website.

After reaching out to the local community on the Banner's Facebook page, residents responded with thoughts on the situation. Jeremiah Kilburn wrote, "It's further proof that religion fuels hate." Cheryl Fox said, "I agree with President Obama," on the statement of it being an act of terror and hate. Bill St. Clair said, "This incident has no effect whatsoever on my life, except to reinforce my existing belief that I am the only person who can reliably defend me. And you are the only person who can reliably defend you. Unlike Obama and his friends in DC, most of us can't afford professional bodyguards."

In Pittsfield, Mass., Out in the Berkshire's will host a vigil at Park Square at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday night, standing against gun violence and hate.

June is traditionally LGBT Pride Month to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan, N.Y., the peak of the Gay Liberation Movement in the U.S. At the time, the last Sunday of the month was constituted as "Gay Pride Day." Celebrations include picnics, parades, parties, workshops and concerts in highly concentrated cities across the nation. There are also memorials for members of the community who lost their lives to hate crimes or HIV/AIDS, according to the Library of Congress.

Education-based organizations in 1994 designated October as LGBT History Month and the next year, the General Assembly of the National Education Association passed a resolution for that month. Same-sex marriage was pronounced legal for all 50 states on June 26 of last year.

Guilia believes the atmosphere for remaining pride events could negatively escalate. Indiana man James Wesley Howell, 20, was arrested a few hours after the shooting when police found with three assault rifles and chemicals to make explosives. Howell was en route to the LA Pride event in West Hollywood, Calif., according to CBS News.

"There will either be more police taking notice, or, in areas where people don't care as much, there might be more problems. I can't even begin to speculate, because I think we're all trying to heal from what just happened. I'm afraid it will negatively impact events," she said. "The gay community has been pretty powerful in the past and it's been something of a wonder to watch and be a part of because I've overcome pretty hateful s**t. Sometimes in the light of such tragedies it brings out the best in people and brings people closer together. That's what I could hope for."

The Vermont State Police posted information about their "See Something, Say Something" program in light of public gatherings. To report suspicious activities, a hotline at 844-848-8477. Report online at vtips.info.

Vermont's 24-hour crisis line for emotional support is 1-800-622-4235. For events and other information on Vermont's Pride Center, visit pridecentervt.org. To support the LGBTQAI+ community in Florida, visit eqfl.org.

— Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.


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