Hundreds honor Pulse shooting victims

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On the first anniversary of the nation’s deadliest mass shooting, they gathered at the Stonewall Inn to pay tribute


  • The Montclair High School acapella group Passing Notes delivered an emotional rendition of "Hallelujah" during Monday evening's commemoration in Greenwich Village for the Pulse nightclub massacre victims. They were flanked by veiled figures standing in for the 49 victims of the shooting. Photo: Claire Wang


A curtain of white cloaks flanked either side of the makeshift stage, sashaying gently with a breeze that cooled the sweltering evening.

On Monday night, the first anniversary of the Orlando Pulse nightclub massacre, the veiled volunteers, 49 in all, hoisted poster boards displaying pictures and accompanying tributes of the victims of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Proxies for the fallen, the collaborators appeared to be floating like fluorescent lamps above the cobblestone walkway outside the Stonewall Inn, the Jerusalem of the gay rights movement.

Christopher Street, usually quaint and muted, rolled back the clock and transformed again into the crowded, exuberant place where a once-marginalized LGBTQ community underwent catharsis by celebrating love and life.

The scene was made all the more startling because Gays Against Guns, the direct action group that organized the memorial rally, had explicitly recommended that the public wear black to mourn those who died. Much of the two-hour commemoration, which drew at least 200 attendees, swung wildly from elation to heartbreak, soaring gospels to solemn name reading. The Orlando massacre has inspired activists and allies alike to better insulate the LGBTQ community from more gun violence by urging politicians to pass stricter laws regarding the purchase of firearms.

“We do this work because 93 people a day are killed by gun violence in this country,” said Gays Against Guns organizer Kathy Moreno. “We do this work because many of our elected officials are in bed with the NRA.”

Facilitated by 20 prominent LGBTQ nightclubs, the tribute featured entertainers, activists, community leaders and Keinon Carter, a survivor of the shooting.

“At the age of 15, I lost my older brother to a gun,” said Carter, who spoke to the audience from a wheelchair. “Recently, I almost lost my life to a gun. There is no other words for it — it needs to stop.”

Carter had been pronounced dead at the club before his sister saw his body move. Though Carter admitted that he does not know how to end gun violence, he said that, nonetheless, “We need to come to the understanding that weapons are meant to protect, not to hurt.”

Iconic musical performances scaled the emotional spectrum, as popular local vocalists and acapella groups took on haunting ballads like “Over the Rainbow” and “Hallelujah” as well as empowering dance tracks like Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie” and Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.”

During the rally’s intervening solemn segments, Council Member Corey Johnson and Public Advocate Letitia James read out the slain victims’ names along with either testimonies to their character or heartrending accounts of their final hours at the club. Dubbed the “Gays Against Guns Human Beings,” the veiled all-white figures standing in for each of the 49 victims individually walked across the stage following each tribute.

“I expected the rally to be a lot sadder,” said Lindsey, 26, “but I really appreciated this conscious effort to heal from this tragedy by challenging it with joy and optimism.” The short stories attached to the names of the victims, she said, were personal touches that “felt humanizing.”

Lindsey and her friend, Shannon, 28, both have distinct memories of their initial reactions to the Orlando shooting. The two had been planning on going to the Brooklyn Pride the next day, Shannon said. “It was so scary — just knowing that our safe space was under attack when we’d felt so safe the night before.

“Part of what makes this rally so great is that it shows us it’s okay to wait afraid, and to be afraid together.”

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