Orlando Vigil

Calvin Neufeld speaks at a vigil for victims of Orlando
Organized by Queer Connection Lanark
Perth, Ontario, June 16, 2016

Last Saturday night, as we celebrated Pride Day here in Perth, after we’d marched our parade through the town, waving to smiling faces along the streets, cars beeping their enthusiasm as they passed, after we’d felt the embrace of our society, and as we celebrated into the evening with music and dancing, at that moment, a man walked in on another group of people just like us. Their evening ended differently.

It’s hard not to experience this as something deeply personal. And it is personal – it could have been me. It could have been you. The people who were targeted were people like us. But we are gathering today not as a queer community but as a human community. The murder of those people is an offense and an injury to us all. This tragedy is not only personal, it is universal. We are sharing in a global grief.

It feels like only yesterday that the Perth community gathered in a vigil for Leelah Alcorn, the young trans girl who committed suicide last year. We are reminded again and again of the violence that queer people face from within and from without. Ours is not a safe world. But by gathering together as we are doing now, creating community, fostering togetherness and solidarity, we are transforming the world, we are making it safe. How many times will we have to gather like this to say “IT’S OK TO BE GAY! IT’S OK TO BE TRANS!”? We will keep on saying it until it is heard – by others and by ourselves.

So what lesson can we learn from this? How can we turn this too toward good? And we have to, we have to keep turning tragedy toward good, turn turn turn, we must never stop turning toward good. It is the only way to win in the war against despair.

I am reminded of the horrific mass shooting of Amish children in a Pennsylvania schoolhouse a decade ago. Absolutely shattering to the world and to that tiny Amish community. After the tragedy, these shattered people came together as a community united in love and reached out to the dead killer’s family to offer them condolence and forgiveness, seeking to understand and to heal.

They knew that hate is the only enemy and that love is the only weapon that can defeat it. They knew that disconnectedness was the poison and connectedness the antidote.

In an open letter to her Amish neighbors, the widow of the killer wrote, "Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you've given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you."

It is my hope that our community – the queer community and the whole human community together – will unite in that same way, meeting and defeating hatred with love. Do not be poisoned by the same poison that murdered those people in Orlando. We must love ourselves, we must love one another, we must love our enemies, we must love, we must love, we must love, we must love, we must love.

Perth vigil for Orlando, June 16, 2016; Photo by Calvin Neufeld

Perth vigil for Orlando, June 16, 2016; Photo by Kari Cunningham

Calvin and son, Perth Pride Parade, June 11, 2016; Photo by Gillian