More than 150 people gathered Sunday evening in Portland’s Monument Square to speak out against the massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that claimed the lives of 50 people and left 53 others wounded.

Many in the crowd – members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community – condemned the violence and spoke of the need for gun control and the election of political leaders who are committed to ending hate crimes.

“Somebody went to a nightclub and killed 50 of our brothers and sisters,” said Andy Verzosa, who organized the event through social media. “It’s a horrific crime.”

Verzosa, 53, said Portland’s LGBT community is a “powerful” group and needs to work even harder to make the city a safe place for its members to live and work in.

The vigil, organized by Verzosa and his friend Susan Hopkins, came together after news of the mass shooting spread across the nation and world. It also happened on the same day as the city’s Old Port Festival and the start of Pride Portland, a 10-day celebration of Portland’s LGBT community.

Pride Portland will hold its 2016 parade and festival Saturday. The celebration officially began with a kickoff party Friday.

“I’m feeling grief. There is still a lot of work to be done in this country,” Hopkins said. “The people who gathered in Pulse (the Orlando nightclub) thought they were safe.”

Just a block down from Monument Square on Spring Street, the mood was somber at Styxx. Owner Josh Moody calls Styxx Portland’s premier gay nightclub.

“I don’t even know what to think,” Moody said. “I’m in shock. Everyone seems to be in shock.”

Moody said he has already taken steps to make sure his guests feel safe. No weapons are allowed inside the club.

Vigil participants spoke about the mass slayings, some expressing deep emotion and a few expressing unbridled anger over the slaughter.

“I’m here to say I am Orlando. We are Orlando,” Leslie Manning of Bath, a member of the Maine Council of Churches, shouted. “We are here to remember and to mourn. We are far too used to these senseless acts of violence.”

Wendy Chapkis of Portland held a sign that summarized her feelings: “Facing Hatred with Love and Pride. Portland’s outraged and anguished queer community.”

Dave Cowie of Portland said an individual like the nightclub gunman never should have been allowed to obtain an assault weapon.

“If you want to buy an assault rifle, you should join the Army,” Cowie said. He said he attended the vigil to bear witness and to demonstrate unity against what authorities are calling the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

Skyler Keiter of South Portland said she was angry that members of the LGBT community cannot go into a nightclub and feel safe.

“We end up wondering if this is going to be the day we die just because of who we are,” said Keiter, who described herself as transgender, queer and Christian. “I do not deserve to be harassed or bullied. This doesn’t end tonight.”

Gia Drew, program director for Equality Maine, attended the vigil.

“This gathering is very important because it is healing for many of us,” Drew said. “It shows we have strength and solidarity.”

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling, who spent part of his day at the Old Portland Festival, also attended the vigil.

“Our hearts are bleeding for Orlando,” Strimling said. “It’s a reminder that we have to redouble our efforts against gun violence and hate crimes.”

Former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, who now splits his time between Ogunquit and Newton, Massachusetts, said he was horrified and saddened by the mass shooting in Orlando.

Frank was the first member of Congress to publicly acknowledge he was gay. He served in the House from 1981 to 2013 as a representative from Massachusetts.

“My reaction was horror,” Frank said Sunday night in a telephone interview. “It was depressing and it was sad to see what happened.”

“As a gay man, it’s even harder to take when this happens to a group you are part of,” Frank said. “It’s a sign that hatred and discrimination are still there.”

Frank said the massacre should serve as a reminder to everyone that no civilian should be allowed to own an assault weapon. Though he believes in the right to bear arms, he said, “no one outside the military should be allowed to own such a weapon.”

 


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