Lambda United and the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs held a vigil Thursday on Florida Atlantic’s Boca Raton campus to grieve for the 49 people killed and 53 wounded in Sunday’s mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
Many of the victims of the shooting were LGBT and Latino. Speakers expressed their condolences at the event, termed WeAreOnePulse, for the victims’ friends and families while attempting to spread messages of hope and healing.
“Orlando is a community rebuilding through peace, through love and through unity,” said Andrea Oliver, the associate vice president of Student Outreach and Diversity.
The theme of community was at the forefront of the vigil. Milor Perdamo, a former FAU student who currently studies law at Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law, asked the audience, “What kind of community do we want to be?”
There were calls to vote for officials who fight for LGBT rights, as well as a call for attendees to donate blood. Voter registration forms and a OneBlood bus were on site for those who wanted to take the initiative.
“One pint of blood can save three lives,” Oliver said. “You have to remember, gay men cannot donate blood, so they need your help.” This was in reference to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s blood donation policies for sexually active gay and bisexual men.
Later in the ceremony, “Let There Be Peace On Earth” was sung by FAU’s Musically Inclined Club’s accompanist Maha Bouhamden and 49 balloons were released as symbols for the lives lost during the shooting. All of these were silently observed by those who came to the event; the emotional responses came later during the RealTalk, which followed the vigil.
In room 128 of the College of Medicine building, a crowd of people gathered to sit in tiered seating and share their reactions to the shooting. Many cried while they conveyed the sadness or fear they felt.
“We are supposed to be one people,” said one audience member. “We are one humanity.”
Much of the audience did not feel like “one humanity,” however. Many shared situations in which they were personally subjected to prejudice or abuse.
“It’s 2016. You shouldn’t be afraid that your teacher will make fun of your pronouns or out you in class,” one student said after sharing an experience of transphobia that happened here on campus.
As the talk continued, several students and attendees admitted they can’t help but feel scared in the aftermath of the attack.
“This is our time to tell the world that we are not going anywhere,” one audience member said.
Another said, “We need to be strong and stand with our brothers and sisters and stop hiding.”
One audience member explained how he had been living comfortably out of the closet for five years, but this event had left him unsure of how to continue. “I don’t know what to do about this,” he said, overwhelmed by tears.
“At the end of the day, the danger we receive is not from outright hate,” said Ben Brage, a member of the transgender community and former Lambda United president. “It is from our families', our community’s failure to understand. We can’t rely on other people to understand us. We need to be the ones to speak out.”
Many expressed how they felt confused and worried after the shooting. Faculty members that attended the event assured them that they have a safe place on campus, citing resources such as the Kaleidoscope Room — Suite 206 in the Student Union — a safe place for LGBT youth to gather and socialize, as well as a peer-to-peer mentor program sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs.
According to the RealTalk coordinator and FAU director of Writing Programs, Barclay Barrios, “Real change happens when you make friends with people who are different from you.”
The vigil, and by extent the RealTalk, was an opportunity to mourn, but it was also an opportunity to discuss “what comes next,” according to Perdamo. He said that “marriage equality happened, and now we need to look to future changes — ensure safety for our community by raising awareness and fighting for our rights.”