Reeling from the nation’s deadliest mass shooting in its history, many cities around the country and the world came together in vigil, song and prayer this week to work through waves of grief felt from the tragedy and to stand in solidarity with the families and loved ones of the 49 lives lost and also with the LGBTQ community, at which the heinous attack carried out by Omar Mateen was targeted.
Mateen, 29, an American-born citizen living in Fort Pierce, Fla., whose parents are from Afghanistan, entered the Pulse nightclub some 120 miles away in Orlando, armed with an assault rifle and a handgun, just after 2 a.m. on Sunday. The popular gay dance club had about 300 patrons inside at the time of the attack according to Orlando police chief John Mina.
The shooter killed 49 people and injured more than 50, held some hostage in a club bathroom and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State via a 911 call shortly after the start of the attack. He later was killed in a gun battle with police.
The outpourings of support and solidarity began almost immediately.
Marty Katz, co-director of JQ Baltimore, an organization that supports the Jewish LGBTQ community, attended the local vigil on Monday night, sponsored by the GLBT Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland, FreeState Legal and Equality Maryland and the LGBT Health Resource Center of Chase Brexton Health Care. Hundreds of people showed up at the Ynot lot, an open area in the Station North District, and filled the blocked off intersection of North and Charles avenues. Katz said he’s heard from many young people, and their parents, who have expressed concern over attending Gay Pride events this month and next.
“When terror takes place, the [terrorist’s] idea is to scare people and change people’s lifestyles and how they behave,” he said. “I encourage them to be smart, go in groups and be aware but have a good time. We don’t close the synagogues because there has been an attack on a synagogue [somewhere]. They may hire additional security but don’t close. So I don’t think we should close gay bars or Gay Pride events, but we should be smart.”
I fear that the ways in which we’re able to pour out our sadness and reactions to these devastating circumstances … are at this point a really unfortunate method of paralysis, and we as individuals and communities need to reclaim our power.
— Rabbi Jessy Gross, Charm City Tribe
He was much more concerned, however, with the language and actions of some extremist organizations “that stigmatize the LGBTQ community, [creating an atmosphere and mentality] that a person might latch on to, to justify harmful behaviors.”
Mindy Dickler, a co-founder of JQ Baltimore, agreed with the sentiment and added, “My son is participating in Pride activities, and I certainly won’t tell him to stop — just like in Israel, when there are attacks, people go on with their lives because that’s how you show love wins.”
Many politicians, community leaders and organizations released statements in light of the attack, such as Eshel, a national organization that creates community and acceptance for LGBT Jews and their families in Orthodox communities:
“Our hearts are broken over the senseless violence, the lives cut short, the families torn apart. … We pray for the day when we will know no more homophobia and or violence against LGBTQ people. … As Jews, we know all too well that hatred does not arise in a vacuum. It persists in our communities and our society at large. In face of this horror and bigotry, we must stand together as one and redouble our efforts to heal a broken world. … We call on religious leaders, particularly those in more traditional religious communities, and especially those in our own Orthodox Jewish community, to commit themselves and their congregations to not stand idly by the spilling of blood, to share responsibility for violence that is all too often inflamed by fundamentalism and to work hard to ensure that all our communities are safe, inclusive and welcoming to all.”
And after the conclusion of Shavuot, typically a joy-filled holiday, the Baltimore Jewish Council statement said, “Yet, this Shavuot was filled with sadness, as we mourned thelives lost in the senseless violence of the Orlando shooting. At a time meant for reflection on the joy and holiness brought by our faith, it is important that we do not demonize the faith of others. The culprit of this violent act is one man who has twisted his concept of faith to meet his own ends; it is not a representation of the entire Muslim community. … We must all ask ourselves, how many of these statements will we write in 2017, how many more senseless killings will our country endure? Something must be done to fight this epidemic and we look towards our interfaith and community partners to undertake this battle together.”
Molly Amster, Baltimore director for Jews United for Justice, echoed that charge with, “We must work to end the hatred and intolerance and remove the weapons from our society that enable a single person to perpetrate such a heinous act. Though Maryland has instituted important common-sense gun violence reforms in recent years, there legislation to protect victims of domestic abuse.”
Evan Serpick, director of strategic communications at Open Society Institute of Baltimore, also attended the vigil and observed that “people were looking for a way to process what they were going through — the frustration, anger, sadness — it seemed very helpful and cathartic.”
He said a host of area politicians spoke, including Mayor Stephanie Rawlins-Blake, State Sen. Catherine Pugh and Del. Mary Washington. Gov. Larry Hogan did not attend but issued this statement:
“The First Lady and I are shocked and saddened by the senseless violence this morning at a nightclub in Orlando. We offer our most sincere condolences to the family and friends of the innocent victims of this act of terror and our deepest gratitude to the first responders and law enforcement who responded to this tragedy with bravery and courage.
“I have reached out to Florida Gov. Rick Scott to express our support during this time. The State of Maryland is ready and willing to provide any assistance needed. Gov. Scott has called for a moment of silence and prayer at 6 p.m. [Sunday] for the victims and their loved ones. I urge everyone in Maryland to join in Gov. Scott’s call for unity and prayer.”
Rabbi Jessy Gross of Charm City Tribe has a different take on calls for prayer:
“I feel like if I hear one more politician say that what we need to do is pray, as a person who has a prayer life, I’m offended because prayer is not going to get us anywhere at this point,” she said. “Of course, we need prayer and healing when we have circumstances with victims and heartbreak, so there is a distinction to be made, but at this point the culpability is on us as a society.
“I fear that the ways in which we’re able to pour out our sadness and reactions to these devastating circumstances … are at this point a really unfortunate method of paralysis, and we as individuals and communities need to reclaim our power.”
Marc Shapiro and JTA contributed to this article.