Still reeling from last weekend’s mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, LGBTQ Utahns and their allies gathered together Monday evening on the east steps of the Salt Lake City and County Building for a candlelight vigil to mourn the victims.
The vigil, which drew more than 1,000 people, was planned and hosted by the Utah Pride Center, Equality Utah, the Utah AIDS Foundation, and the Human Rights Campaign. Event organizers opted to press forward despite the threat of severe thunderstorms, albeit with the addition of umbrellas. Vigils also took place in Provo, Ogden, and Draper.
Speakers included Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski (Democrat), Archie Archuleta from the Utah Coalition of La Raza (UCLR), Muslim leader and prominent Democrat Noor Ul-Hasan, Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox (Republican), Senator Jim Dabakis (Democrat – Salt Lake City), LGBTQ community leader Lesley Ann Shaw, and Patrick Alba from the UCLR. “Stand by Me” and “Let It Be” were performed by local musicians as the opening and closing musical numbers, respectively. A moment of silence was also observed.
Biskupski assured the crowd that the Salt Lake City Police Department is doing everything in its power to prevent hate crimes and maintain safety at LGBTQ gathering places throughout the city. “It’s very important at a time like this that we live in the moment, taking a very hard look at how each of us can do things in our daily lives to make a difference. I can tell you one thing: This lesbian is going to keep working to effect change in this city of ours and no one will ever scare me away.”
Biskupski spoke in favor of increased gun laws and hoped Sunday’s attack will stimulate a robust conversation on mental illness in the United States. “The LGBTQ community and our allies are organized. We are effective, and we must continue to use our resources to promote a healthy and safe society for everyone. We love the Constitution. We believe in the Constitution. We believe in the words of the Second Amendment, especially the beginning: well regulated. It’s past time for sensible gun safety laws in this state and in this country. It is sensible to keep military-style weapons off of our streets. These guns have made the job of our law enforcement more dangerous, put us all at risk, and now they’re falling into the hands of terrorists.”
In an emotional address, Cox spoke about his childhood in Sanpete County. “I grew up in a small town and went to a small, rural high school. There were some kids in my class that were different from me and sometimes I wasn’t kind to them. I didn’t know it at the time, but I know now that they were gay. I regret not treating them with the kindness, dignity, respect, and love that they deserve. For that, I sincerely and humbly apologize. Over the intervening years, my heart has changed.”
Cox reflected on the importance of what happens going forward. “We find ourselves at a crossroads, a crossroads of hate and terror. How do we respond? How do you respond? Do we lash out with anger, hate, and mistrust or do we, as Abraham Lincoln begged us, ‘appeal to the better angels of our nature?’ Usually, when tragedy occurs, we see our nation come together. It was sad yesterday to see far too many retreat into their over-worn policy corners and demagoguery. Let me be clear. There are no simple policy answers to this tragedy. Beware of those who say they have an easy solution. It doesn’t exist. I can assure you though this, that calling people idiots, communists, fascists, or bigots on Facebook is not going to change any hearts or minds. Today, we need fewer Republicans, fewer Democrats, and more Americans.”
Cox also urged those in attendance to respond to hate with kindness. “I truly believe that this is the defining issue of our generation. Can we be brave? Can we be strong? Can we be kind and perhaps even happy in the face of atrocious acts of hate and terrorism? Do we find a way to unite or do these atrocities further corrode and divide us as a nation? Can we, the citizens of the great state of Utah, lead the nation in love in the face of adversity? Can we become a greatest generation? I promise that we can, but I also promise that it will never happen if we leave it to the politicians.”
Dabakis concluded his remarks by issuing a warning to bigots: “You can shoot us, you can kill us, but our spot at the table is set and we’re not going anywhere.”
49 were killed and 53 injured in Sunday’s incident, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. The perpetrator, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, was shot and killed by police.