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Mourners Gather in Jackson Heights to Commemorate Orlando Victims

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City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito with Councilmember Daniel Dromm, Public Advocate Letitia James, and Comptroller Scott Stringer. | JOHN McCARTEN/ NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito with Councilmember Daniel Dromm, Public Advocate Letitia James, and Comptroller Scott Stringer. | JOHN McCARTEN/ NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL

Queens, the borough of immigrants, held a vigil to commemorate those killed in the Orlando gay bar massacre, demonstrating the solidarity that has developed there between the LGBT community and members of the many religions that call the borough home.

In a matter of hours of the news emerging out of Orlando, out gay City Councilmember Daniel Dromm reached out to Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu leaders as well as elected officials and LGBT activists, calling on them to join together to affirm their unity, deplore extremism, and honor the Orlando victims.

Early Sunday evening, mourners packed the recently named Diversity Plaza, located in the shadow of the 74th Street/ Roosevelt Avenue #7 elevated stop. The commercial center of Jackson Heights, the area’s shops offer a wide array of ethnic foods as well as overseas telephone service, testament to the vitality of the Asian and Latino immigrant communities who inhabit the neighborhood. The Pulse nightclub in Orlando was having its weekly Latin night when the attack occurred.

Just one week before, the plaza was the site of the Queens Pride Festival.

A tearful Dromm, in a short opening statement, said simply, “I don’t want this incident to separate us. Love conquers hate.”

Ali Najmi, president of the Muslim Democratic Club of New York, said, “We simply condemn this horrible, dreadful attack.” Members of the LGBT community, he said, “have been our strongest allies.”

Omar Mateen, the 29-year-old shooter who was himself killed in the assault, phoned 911 shortly before entering Orlando’s Pulse nightclub to pledge his allegiance to ISIS. His father, Mir Seddique, told NBC News that his son had been angered several months ago seeing two gay men kiss on the street in Miami when Mateen was with his own young son.

Letitia James, the city’s public advocate, called for a moment of silence to remember the victims of the shooting.

“Fifty lives lost, 50 reason to stand together,” she said. “We will not allow one criminal individual to define who we are.”

James called for stricter gun control laws saying, “We must fight back against right-wing” politicians who resist doing more about access to assault-style weapons.

James told Gay City News, “ I have been there many times when Muslims have been attacked. We are all in this together, and there are more of us united by love than there are haters.”

Many speakers remarked that June is both the month of Pride and the month of Ramadan, a sacred Islamic holiday.

Melissa Mark-Viverito, the City Council speaker, said, “Our hearts are heavy. It is about extremism, not about religion.”

State Senator José Peralta focused his remarks on the need for more gun control measures, saying the Orlando slayings were a reminder of similar incidents in recent years that ripped through a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school, the Virginia Tech campus, and a holiday party for county workers in San Bernardino, California.

“Enough is enough,” Peralta said.

State Assemblymember Michael G. DenDekker called for courage, saying, “I’m still going to go out. I’m still going to live free.”

City Councilmembers Barry Grodenchik, Jimmy Van Bramer, and Daniel Dromm. | JOHN McCARTEN/ NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL
City Councilmembers Barry Grodenchik, Jimmy Van Bramer, and Daniel Dromm. | JOHN McCARTEN/ NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL

Out gay City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, who was there with his husband, Dan Hendrick, denounced homophobic violence.

“They were trying to scare us into not being who we are,” he said, adding that members of the LGBT community must continue to “walk through the streets holding hands, even kiss.”

Other elected officials voicing their sorrow and echoing the call for unity included State Senators Toby Ann Stavisky and James Sanders and Councilmember Barry Grodenchik .

Brendan Fay, the indefatigable fighter for LGBT inclusion in Manhattan’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, struck an emotional high note, saying, “I know what it’s like to be denounced from the pulpit. I am aware of the grief felt by people who simply wanted to go out and dance. I stand before you with grief and anger. We send from this place our love to those have suffered lost and take a stand against bigotry and hatred.”

Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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