Fort Collins community gathers to honor Orlando victims at NoCo Pride vigil

Randi Mattox

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The audience raises their candles and phones for the victims of Orlando. (Randi Mattox/Collegian)

For some, recovering from the largest mass shooting in the history of the United States seems a difficult, painful task.

Extending love to one another during a time of sadness and fear, Fort Collins community members gathered at a vigil hosted by Northern Colorado Pride to pay their respects to the 50 people who were slain during the mass shooting that occurred at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on Sunday June 12. 

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The vigil began with prayers from a group of interfaith leaders. Despite the clergies belonging to different religious groups, the overarching idea that we do not have to think alike to love alike was present in all of their prayers.

Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ representative Jane Anne Ferguson prayed at the vigil. Ferguson said she attended to spread the importance of gun control.

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Attendees listen to a prayer. (Randi Mattox/Collegian)

“I have a gay son, and I can just hardly wrap my mind around him even being in this kind of danger,” Ferguson said. “But it’s bigger than that. Just as President Obama has been saying, we don’t have the ability to stop terrorism, but we do have the ability to make sure that they don’t have the tools or the weaponry.”

Congresswoman Joann Ginal, who is openly gay and represents Fort Collins at the Colorado state legislature, spoke at the vigil about how we can move forward from the horrific events that occurred in Orlando.

“We need more solidarity,” Ginal said. “All of us folks need to work together as one as much as we possibly can and ensure strength and love for one another. That’s what this is about.”

Morgan Harper, a senior at CSU and member of the LGBTQ community, said that showing love for one another is the best way to overcome this tragedy.

“We should band together and help each other like we always do,” Harper said. “I think that it is important now more than ever to make sure that people don’t feel alone. There is so much hatred in the world, and we need to make sure that we love each other.”

The crowd offers respect to the lives lost in Orlando. (Randi Mattox/Collegian)

Ginal said that politicians in Colorado should respond to the events of Orlando with policy changes.

“I really think that this is a hate crime,” Ginal said. “That is my belief, and hopefully Colorado can lead the way in some policy changes in regards to mass killings.”

County Commissioner Steve Johnson left a hearing at the nearby Larimer County Justice Center to attend the vigil and speak about Fort Collins’ commitment to maintaining equality in the community. Johnson emphasized that the Orlando shooting will not break Fort Collins’ pledge to create an atmosphere where people can live free of discrimination and hate. Johnson also encouraged attendees to thank the law enforcement in Fort Collins for their commitment to everyone’s safety.

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Audience members comfort and embrace each other. (Randi Mattox/Collegian)

CSU Vice President for Student Affairs Blanche Hughes and CSU Vice President for Diversity Mary Ontiveros attended the vigil to remind attendees of resources available at CSU for LGBTQ community members and their allies. They recommended contacting the CSU Health Network Counseling Center or the Women and Gender Advocacy Center for needs related to the events in Orlando.

Northern Colorado Pride, an organization that formed only one year ago, hosted the vigil. Founder Kimberly Chambers said the organization is prepared to respond at any time, which was why they were able to organize the vigil so quickly.

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An attendee shows support for the LGBTQ community with a rainbow flag. (Randi Mattox/Collegian)

“These sorts of things do happen,” Chambers said. “Individuals who are transgender are killed every day. So we have to respond in a way that’s not only inclusive, but also supportive of our community. When something this mass happens, we just have to be able to support the community.”

Chambers said Northern Colorado Pride hosted the vigil to provide LGBTQ people and their allies with a safe place to be together during a time of hardship.

“A lot of the individuals who have experienced hate crimes and similar things like this go into isolation and experience depression and anxiety, and then they go back into the closet because they don’t feel safe in their community,” Chambers said. “When I heard the news yesterday morning, the first thing I thought of was pulling our community together so that everyone can feel safe because we know Fort Collins is a safe community.”

State Senator John Kefalas; Dana Zzyym, with Intersex International; Julie Wilson and Kristen Draper, with Parents and Friends of Lesbian and Gays; President of Poudre School District’s school board Cathy Kipp, and Fort Collins Assistant Chief of Police Jerry Schiager also spoke at the vigil.

Collegian Arts and Culture Editor Randi Mattox can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @randimattox.