Red Deer to hold candlelight vigil for Orlando massacre victims

Central Albertans will gather in solidarity for the LGBTQ community at City Hall Park on Wednesday night.

Central Albertans will gather in solidarity for the LGBTQ community at City Hall Park on Wednesday night.

A candlelight vigil will be held that was developed as a local, grassroots response to the Orlando shooting at a gay nightclub early Sunday morning.

The vigil starts at 6 p.m. Everyone is welcome.

Crystal McNichols, who suggested the vigil, said she happened to be watching CNN when the story broke.

“The gun shots you heard on the TV. I cannot imagine the poor people who survived,” said McNichols, who is co-chair of Central Alberta Pride.

“Fifty innocent people got killed over what? When it’s all said and done whether we’re gay, lesbian, transgender, we all have the same blood,” said the transgender Central Albertan.

Lucas Gagne, who is helping with the vigil, said he cried when he read about the heart-wrenching tragedy online.

It’s absolutely crucial to hold a vigil to speak and gather on behalf of those who can’t, he said.

“There are some people in places where they’re not safe enough to speak and I think it’s important that the people who can, to be there and show solidarity,” Gagne said.

“Anywhere can be a hard place to be open. It depends on the support you have and so many factors.”

He said just showing up at the vigil is enough.

“To just be with each other, I think that’s really important at this time,” Gagne said.

Serge Gingras, co-chair of Central Alberta Pride, said Sunday’s tragedy put him in mind of unforgettable violence against the LGBTQ community through the years.

He recalled Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old university student who was brutally attacked and tied to a fence in a Wyoming field and left to die in 1998. Also the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City against police that were fueled by violent police raids on gay clubs that became a galvanizing force to promote gay rights.

“As much as we have made progress as a society, there’s still a lot of work to do,” Gingras said.

“The act that happened in Orlando was extremely extreme. But it reminds us that the world is not perfect. We still have to work towards broader acceptance, embracing everyone, not only LGBTQ, but from all kinds of different backgrounds and ethnicity and languages.”

He said such violence could cause some people working towards revealing their sexual identity to retreat back in the closet until they feel it is safer.

Tania Diletzoy, spokesperson for the Red Deer chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) Canada, said that even though Orlando was an isolated incident by a homophobic shooter, the impact can be traumatizing for people.

“It’s very tragic and it feels like we’re going backwards. But it can also be an opportunity for celebration and education and support all around. There is potential for movement forward when tragedy happens,” Diletzoy said.

She said there is hope in the widespread condemnation of the violence and the support for the LGBTQ community.

“The (public) is more accepting. Look at how many people who are reaching out to help,” Diletzoy said.

Event planning for Central Alberta Pride Week, Aug. 14-20, is underway.

Gingras said the shooting is unlikely to have any impact on the activities held. Easier access to weapons in the United States makes mass shootings more of a problem there compared to Canada.

“We hear about shootings in the States all the time. This happens to be targeting the LGBTQ population. Whether it’s a school, or mall or movie theater, there is always someone, somewhere, who will take advantage of the system to get to whoever they want.”

The PFLAG support group for family and friends of LGBTQ youth will meet through the summer on the first Thursday of each month, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., in room 2601 at Red Deer College.