By Jessica Aurie
This week, hundreds of people came together in Manchester’s Gay Village in honour of the people tragically killed and injured in the Orlando massacre.
The vigil began with the normally loud and energetic Canal Street falling silent. Hand in hand, people took a stand against hate crime, making a circle around the entire village to listen to an emotional rendition of Amazing Grace in respect for those who died.
After lining the streets, the mass crowd moved into Sackville Gardens later that evening, where they were invited to sign a book of condolence. Hosting the civic event were key dignitaries from Manchester City Council including the Lord Mayor of Manchester Carl Austin, Counsellor Bev Craig, as well as the LGBT Foundation and representatives from the Muslim community.
Police and Crime Commissioner of Greater Manchester Tony LLoyd began with a pledge to the LGBT community:
“We will stand with you against hate crime. Just think of someone you love now. Let’s reach out to each other and say, together, our love will build that world of tolerance and I will give everyone of you that commitment. I will say to you, we’ve got with us Greater Manchester police, we will challenge hate crime of whatever source in our city region because this is not the Manchester way of doing things. We are here to love each other, to protect each other. We will challenge hate crime that grows into the kind of atrocity that we heard about in Orlando.”
As everyone stood in the crowd, rainbow flags and candles in hand, the speakers expressed their pride in the LGBT community and their sadness about the murders in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, a space described as a safe space for people to dance, laugh and express their identity without judgement. The crowd were informed during the vigil that Barbara Poma, the owner of Pulse, had named the nightclub after her brother who had died after a battle with HIV. A representative of the LGBT community stated that the club was a venue where Poma’s “brother’s pulse could live on” and a hub which stood for equality, awareness and pride. The venue, according to the speakers, hosted an array of supportive events throughout the year including, as on the night of the shooting, a space for “Latina drag queens and trans women to take pride in being people of colour as well as being transgender.”
After several speeches and rounds of applause in response to the slogan “Love is stronger than hate,” the names of the 49 people killed were read out as colourful balloons were released into the sky. The youngest victim of the massacre was just 19 years old.
Amongst the speakers was the muslim Councillor and representative of the Manchester Council of Mosques, Rabnawaz Akbar, who stated:
“What happened in Orlando was not an act of Islam but an act of terrorism and hate. Let us be clear about this and I hope this makes it onto Sky News, this was the most extreme form of homophobic hate crime. In recent years, the muslim community itself has seen a rise in the acts hate crime and islamaphobia, we cannot fight injustice against some groups and not against others. Whether it is islamaphobia, homophobia or anti-semitism, we can not dismantle one without the other. Together we will defeat intolerance and hate and allow love to conquer.”
Throughout the vigil, tributes were performed by the Manchester Lesbian & Gay Chorus (MLGC) including the songs Something Inside So Strong and the Beatles’ All You Need is Love. On behalf of the MLGC, the lead chorus member stood and spoke to those standing in silence in Sackville Gardens:
“Dear friends, thank you for joining us in marking the terrible events in Orlando. Our hearts go out to the LGBTQ people of Florida and our condolences to all of those effected by this chilling act. So much of the news has made the blood run cold, but particularly the reports of phones of the dead ringing in the club, calls from desperate loved ones.”
He went on, “Our LGBT community is built on love, on compassion, on solidarity. That is who we are. That is why we reach out. We feel it keenly because this is our family. This was an attack on our family. We feel it keenly because we can imagine it being any one of us. We feel it keenly because we know the damage that hate does us. We don’t have easy answers to terrible events. Our response, friends, is to come together. Our response is to say we will not have our communities torn apart by hatred.”
“We’re on the move now,
With friends, lovers, bed fellows by our sides.
These are our journeys.
This is our life. ”
Lighting the candles that were handed out by the George House Trust, the Manchester vigil for Orlando ended with the crowd standing in silence, candles lifted towards the sky, while Amazing Grace was again sung in remembrance of those who lost their lives in the Orlando massacre.