In 2016, a mass shooting in a gay nightclub led to the deaths of 49 individuals.
On Monday, Gaetz Memorial United Church in downtown Red Deer honoured those who died during a service that concluded with 49 bell tolls.
“This is a memorial service … in remembrance of what happened at the Pulse Nightclub in Florida on June 12, 2016,” said Scott (Sheila) Cunningham, the church’s treasurer and chair of its Affirm and Acknowledgement Committee.
“We have a powerpoint (showing images of the victims) and will speak their names, followed by a quiet service of reflection. This is about remembrance of what happened then and acknowledging what can happen when people have that much darkness in their hearts against LGBTQ+ people.”
The Red Deer church, which is an affirming congregation, meaning it fully accepts individuals who are part of the LGBTQ2S+ community, has held a memorial of sorts each year since the shooting. This includes virtual services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are a lot of people in the LGBTQ+ community who have had a negative experience with the Christian religion. It’s important for us to show that not every Christian church is like that. We’re the affirming church in Red Deer,” said Cunningham.
“Today we remember what happened in Florida. For myself, I’m going to pray for those who are LGBTQ+ here in Red Deer, but are living in fear because of harassment or discrimination, whether it’s local, on the news or social media. I’m also going to pray for those who carry that darkness in their hearts. Hopefully they can find it in themselves to replace that darkness with love and light.”
Cunningham, who is a trans woman, said she was heartbroken when she first heard about the nightclub shooting – in addition to the 49 who died, another 53 were injured.
“I wasn’t out as a trans woman then, so my perspective has even shifted since then,” said Cunningham.
“My personal experience may be different from someone who was out or accepted themselves under that rainbow alphabet.”