Special to The Journal
Residents, concerned citizens and community activists from all walks gathered at city hall on Monday to remember those killed in the Orlando, Florida shootings.
The candlelight vigil organized by local LGBTQ groups and Sarnia Speaks mourned the victims of the targeted, June 9 nightclub attack and brought awareness to ongoing discrimination against the gay and trans community.
“Unfortunately, before I came here tonight my mom said, ‘Be safe,” Samantha Thompson of the Sarnia Pride Alliance told the crowd.
“Now it’s in people’s minds that there are scary people in this world that want to hurt other people. But we can’t be afraid. Right? We have to come here and show support for our community – not only our LGBTQ community, but Sarnia.”
Forty-nine people were killed and 53 injured when an American-born gunman pledging allegiance to ISIS opened fired in a gay nightclub in Orlando.
It was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history and its worst terror attack since 9/11.
During the hour-long vigil, community leaders shared words of remembrance, prayers, and visions for a hopeful future.
Crystal Fach, a queer-identifying citizen, began the vigil by reading the names of each victim.
“How did this happen? How did this happen in 2016?” she asked.
“People were labeling this as terrorism. This was not terrorism, this was a hate crime caused by discrimination. Homophobia and transphobia are still alive and well, and we need to talk about it.”
Despite the political and demographic differences between U.S. and Canada, the local LGBTQ community is not immune to prejudice, Fach said.
“I’ve been wearing very pride-obvious shirts, just pumping gas, and I’ve had like a random ‘Hey dike!’ yelled at me out their window.”
Still, there are multiple groups in the Sarnia area that support the LGBTQ community and provide education and information to anyone with questions.
And that is major progress, Fach said.
“Today, I can see that there are lots of people in this community that do care, and we are getting better with Trans Connections, Sarnia Pride Alliance and Spectrum. We have three resources now. Three years ago we had Spectrum and four years ago we had nothing.”