Gatherings held in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Edmonton, as Canadians reflect on what the violence means for the LGBTQ community.
By Nicole ThompsonThe Canadian Press
Mon., June 13, 2016
After a mass shooting on Sunday that killed at least 50 people and injured dozens more at a gay nightclub in Florida, many Canadians were reflecting on what the violence means for the LGBTQ community.
A gunman wielding an assault-type rifle and a handgun opened fire inside a crowded gay nightclub in Orlando early Sunday morning. He was shot and killed by police.
Candlelight vigils to mourn the victims were planned in several Canadian cities Sunday night. Hundreds gathered for a vigil in Toronto in a predominantly gay neighbourhood.
Some carried flags — Canadian, American and Pride — while others held signs. Speakers called for love in the face of violence.
A handful of uniformed police officers patrolled outside the vigil, and others provided security within the crowd.
In Vancouver, hundreds joined a vigil at the art gallery, holding white candles in red plastic cups as speakers emphasized the importance and strength of the community.
City councillor Steve Thomson told the crowd he never imagined in his nearly four decades of fighting for equal rights that this kind of hatred could exist.
“We have to face that there are people who want to put us back in the closet, if not kill us as they did in Orlando. But that won’t stop us. That won’t stop any of us,” he said.
The attack came during Pride month, both in the U.S. and Canada.
The executive director of Pride Toronto, a not-for-profit with the goal of bringing together the city’s LGBTQ community, said the massacre was a grim reminder of the setbacks his community faces.
“It reminds us that hate and discrimination are still a big part of this society, and that because of this, some of our brothers and sisters this morning lost their lives,” Mathieu Chantelois said on Sunday.
The organization also runs Toronto’s pride month, and Chantelois said Pride Toronto was already working with city police and the RCMP, and would see if there were any additional security steps that could be taken.
“The main objective of Pride is to create a safe space for our community to gather together and feel comfortable,” he said.
Spencer Chandra Herbert, a member of the British Columbia legislature, was in Quesnel, B.C., celebrating the small town’s second annual pride celebration with his husband when he heard the news. His immediate reaction was disbelief.
“To think that in this so-called accepting day and age that this hatred is still there and could strike at any time, it’s unbelievable,” Chandra Herbert said.
Hearing about the massacre was especially crushing in the wake of celebrating love with a small community.
“I’ve been hearing from people how much it means to them to see somebody there, a politician there with their husband, walking hand-in-hand down the main street,” Chandra Herbert said. “It sends a pretty strong signal that we here believe in diversity and will stand up against hatred for love.”
The violence shows there’s still work to be done in educating people and spreading awareness and understanding of LGBTQ issues, said Chandra Herbert, who has repeatedly tried to get transgender rights legislation passed in B.C.
“(Education) is still vitally important because there are still people hiding in closets, afraid of coming out because of violence or fear of being disowned by family members or being beaten up at schools. It’s still an issue,” Chandra Herbert said.
In Montreal’s gay village, many people reacted with shock and sadness Sunday afternoon while pointing out that many LGBTQ individuals still face violence, even in Canada.
Francis Cavanagh, a bartender at Bar Aigle Noir, said the incident proves homophobia is not a thing of the past.
“It’s a reminder that we still need gay villages, we still need Pride parades, and we still need solidarity to show we are all together,” he said. “These things don’t just happen in Russia or in faraway places.”
In Edmonton, people attending Mayor Don Iveson’s annual pride brunch reflected on the Florida massacre.
Lorne Stelmach said he feels safer in Canada because gun-control laws are different here.
“There are pockets of bigotry here and there, and we try to deal with those as best we can,” Stelmach said. “Hopefully, as we grow as a community, we will extinguish all that bigotry.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered Canada’s condolences to the victims, calling the massacre a “domestic terror attack.”
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who is openly gay, wrote on Twitter that her thoughts were with the LGBTQ community while B.C. Premier Christy Clark tweeted that she was “incredibly saddened by the evil brutality” of the Florida shooting.