Rainbow flags waved in the humid, summer air and a sign that said “Religion = Hate, Gay = Love” hovered over the large crowd on Fourth Street Sunday evening in downtown Austin. Fists were raised with voices chanting, “We’re here, we’re queer, get over it!”
By Emily Nash
*Editor’s note: ORANGE respects the sources’ decision to not disclose their last names as a means of protecting their identity.
Hundreds gathered at the state capitol and marched to Fourth Street at Colorado Street for a vigil led by the LGBT+ community to honor the lives lost in the mass shooting that took place early Sunday morning at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
The vigil lasted about an hour. Different individuals and leaders from the LGBT+ community spoke, including Austin representative Celia Israel, the only openly lesbian member of the House of Representatives. Mayor Steve Adler also offered words of comfort and support to the community and to the city of Austin.
Adler referred to Austin as the first city in the country to have a mass shooting, noting that there have been two more mass shootings in the city since. “It is important that we gather together as a community to shine light on these events to make real clear that Austin, Texas is no place for hate,” Adler says.
After quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Adler ended his speech by saying that America is for everyone, not just for a few and not just when it’s easy. “Together we will do more than just get through this, we will triumph,” Adler says. “I am so proud to be part of this community.”
When the vigil came to an end just before sundown, most of the crowd dispersed. Many, however, lingered on Fourth Street to discuss the event, the Orlando massacre and to offer each other comfort and support.
Patient registration representative *Gil and insurance agent *Ross, two members of the LGBT+ community in Austin were moved by the vigil. According to Ross, it was an important event because it showed that the community could come together through such a tragedy. “I came here to fight against fear,” Ross says. “There are some hateful people out there, some truly hateful people. We’ll stand together and we’ll always be together.”
Gil agrees with Ross. When he heard about the news, Gil said that it hit him hard, especially because it was targeted towards his own community. Despite his and Ross’s tears and heartbreak, Gil said the LGBT+ community will not stand for it. “Get used to it,” Gil says. “We’re not going away.”
Makeup artist Steve Fitzpatrick and his dog Patsy discussed the mass shooting with their friends after the vigil in the middle of Fourth Street. Fitzpatrick, who just turned 50 and was in his 20s during the HIV crisis, said that this is a bizarre time for the LGBT+ community. The massacre reminded him that his age group and the younger generation of the LGBT+ community are somewhat separated in their experiences. “I am one of the last men standing from that small group of men who made it through that holocaust with no attention, no medication, no one would even say the word [HIV],” Fitzpatrick says. “I was partying, wanting to get laid, but my friends [were] dropping dead left and right. There’s none of us around anymore, and these guys who are 20-25 years old don’t understand that. I could cry right now.”
Regardless of their different generational experiences, Fitzpatrick says that everyone in the LGBT+ community is still his family and they will fight through this like they fought through the HIV crisis. “We’ll ban together as we did here today in the state of Texas,” Fitzpatrick says. “Don’t fuck with the queens baby, don’t do it!”
One common theme amongst the crowd was the discussion of gun control. Writer Lacey Roop said that after so many mass shootings in the United States, and especially after a mass shooting that was targeted towards her own community, there needs to be stricter gun laws instead of hatred towards a group of people. “It hits close to home because I’m gay and my friends are gay,” Roop says. “But I’m pissed about the xenophobia that’s targeted towards the shooter. We have the same hatred for someone’s ethnicity and religion, I wish the same hatred could go towards guns.”
Roop’s friend, montessori teacher Caitlyn Krull said that from now on, the massacre will be in the back of her head when she goes out. But, that’s not going to stop her from living her life, and she certainly won’t purchase a gun. The mass shooting is frustrating and heartbreaking to her because her community has to live in fear. As she points to her sign that said “I’m gay don’t shoot,” Krull says that her next sign will say, “Being gay isn’t hurting anyone, so stop hurting us.” “What are we doing to offend you or hurt you that makes you want to kill us?” Krull says. “We’re human beings and we have feelings and we have lives and we have loved ones.”
As the sun went down, people went their own ways with their loved ones and APD opened Fourth Street for traffic, Roop says that anyone who perpetuates acts of violence are weak. “The only way you can combat them is through love and forgiveness,” Roop says. “That’s the way I’m going to continue my life and my existence. I’m not going to hate you, I’m going to love you. You can’t fight that.”