This article multiple contains multiple references to mass shooting, LGBT discrimination and Isalmophobia. Reader discretion is advised.
A SILENT VIGIL took place in Owain Glyndwr Square on Wednesday night, in memory of those who recently lost their lives in the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida.
Beginning at 7pm, mourners stood in silence before gathering for a time in the square, standing in emotional solidarity, singing, and laying candles and flags in the square along with signs including one bearing a bleak reminder; of the number of countries in which homosexuality is still illegal, and otherwise punisbable by death, as well as ones calling for an end to both homophobia and Isalmophobia, after it was revealed shooter Omar Mateen had pledged allegiance to Islamic State before carrying out the attack, which killed 49 and injured 53. Three weeks earlier, an attack at a Mexico gay bar left 7 dead. A sign at the vigil carried its message in Spanish.
Organiser Ruth Fowler spoke of her shock at the weekend’s tragedy to ASM during the vigil. Seeing that many other cities across the world had organised vigils – including one on Old Compton Street in London – and having hosted some previously, plans were made for one in the centre of Aberystwyth.
An organiser with Aber Pride, Fowler emphasised the town’s strong LGBT community, who had come out in force to support the event. The vigil was well attended, with members of the student body, Aberystwyth locals, and former Plaid Cymru candidate Mike Parker, who campaigned in the constituency during last year’s elections.
“I thought it was […] really powerful,” said Fowler. “It was really great to have everybody come together.”
Police watching over proceedings made a “nice, unobtrusive show of solidarity” as they wore epaulettes in rainbow colours for the event, with some laying down candles for the vigil. Discussions with police afterward confirmed a regrettable anxiety that people may have taken exception to such a strong, public showing of solidarity for the LGBT community, making a police presence necessary.
The vigil had an atmosphere of shock and a great, collective sadness, but also of community and the strength found in it. It is strength that is needed because the community understands that the Pulse massacre was an attack on the way of life that makes events like these so distressingly common.
In the aftermath of the Pulse attack, presidential candidate Ted Cruz lent his thoughts and prayers to the victims – despite a stubborn record for striking down calls for civil rights changes as Senator for Texas, including a reauthorisation of the Violence Against Women Act. Lawmakers and bigots have been quick to scapegoat, evade the truth, for a myriad of reasons; how can people and media organisations that hate the very existences of LGBT individuals still show their support for the victims, since it lands them a great boon in their demonisation of Muslims? And, in turn, how can those who still throw their support behind the Second Amendment, even after the Sandy Hook massacre of 2012 that took the lives of 20 children under the age of eight, manouvre their way out of condemning laws that allowed Mateen to purchase the guns used at Pulse, despite being screened by the FBI on two separate occasions?
In the aftermath of the attack, journalist Owen Jones left a Sky News interviewer early, after the host and his fellow interviewee urged him to resist viewing the attack as one on the LGBT community, rather than one against all people “looking to enjoy themselves – just like at the Bataclan”, in a stunning disregard for the facts at hand.
It is not a coincidence that Mateen targeted the venue on the night that two Puerto Rican transgender women were the headline performers, nor that there were other gay bars closer to Mateen’s residence that he might have chosen that night, with those in denial that the massacre was a hate crime perhaps assuming Mateen chose to grab a quick In-N-Out before the attack.
In some ways it is hard to believe Sandy Hook was almost four years ago. As well as that, yesterday marks the one year anniversary of the shooting at a predominantly black church in Charleston, South Carolina. His approach to the attack holds chilling similarity to that of Pulse; Mateen was reported to have visited the club before the attacks, and the Charleston shooter, Dylan Roof, joined the congregation at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church before murdering nine of its flock.
Pulse, Charleston and Sandy Hook, Aurora, Virginia Tech and Columbine, all events facilitated by the availability of firearms for the attackers involved. Too many tragedies to name.
During the writing of this article, yet more tragedy has struck not just across the Atlantic, but here at home. More innocent lives lost, and more vigils. On Friday, the news broke that Labour MP Jo Cox had been attacked after a meeting with her constituents. She was 41.
This attack will not be named an act of terror, like the Pulse massacre had been before the blood had dried. Looking on the face of Thomas Mair, a white, British man, the reason why is depressingly clear.
She is a victim of ideologically-motivated violence, like those in Orlando before her. What is clear is that those who have chosen to embrace tolerance, and love, have had their lives cruelly ended due to a massive intolerence, whicever way it has reared its ugly head. What these tragedies, and the vigils held to memoralise them show is that the horror of these events can and will only be matched by the outpouring of love and support for their victims, a love that is capable of surpassing all that wish to oppose it.
The views in the latter half of this article are that of the article and do not represent Aberystwyth Student Media as a whole