- Special Projects
More than 300 members and supporters of the LGBT community gathered at two Honolulu vigils Sunday evening to honor the 50 people killed and at least 53 more wounded earlier that day in shootings at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando.
Some of the mourners knew victims personally. And while tears were shed, people also took the opportunity to speak out about discrimination, gun control and political change.
At an LGBT Caucus of the Democratic Party of Hawaii vigil at Honolulu Hale, people talked about political marginalization of the community, signed posters bearing the words, “To our Pulse family,” and planted pinwheels in the lawn to commemorate the dead.
Voter registration forms were made available.
During the vigil, Kourtney Baltazar, a friend of shooting victim KJ Morris, a 37-year-old former Hawaii resident who worked at the nightclub, spoke tearfully about the loss of “the most loving person” who “didn’t have anything bad to say about anyone.”
“You never think that it’s you. You see it on the news and you think ‘Oh, I feel for those victims,’ until it’s you, until it’s your friend,” Baltazar said.
Michael Golojuch Jr., chair of the LGBT caucus, called upon politicians – both local and national – to stop the anti-gay rights rhetoric that he said fuels acts of hate and leaves “blood on their hands.”
“We’re here tonight to send a message loud and clear: We’re not going to let these acts of terror and a hate crime deter us from being who we are, being out and proud,” he said.
Golojuch praised Hawaii’s strict gun control laws and said the rest of the country ought to use the state as a blueprint. He also called for a ban on assault rifles.
Noting the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that left 20 children dead, Golojuch said it was unlikely that a massacre in a gay bar was likely to spur change in gun control policy.
“I realize that when I walk out of the house wearing this (rainbow lei) that I put a target on my back,” he said. If someone’s gonna shoot me for being gay, they’re gonna shoot me for being gay. That’s not gonna stop me from being who I am.”
Nearing sunset at Kapiolani Park in Waikiki, another crowd gathered for LGBT Hawaii’s vigil at the iconic statue of Mahatma Gandhi, a rainbow flag draped over his arm.
David Brustein, director of the Hawaii LGBT Legacy Foundation, condemned terrorism and the nation’s “broad application of the Second Amendment.”
MarshaRose Joyner, former president and co-chair of the Hawaii Martin Luther King Jr. Coalition, compared the struggle for gay rights to that of civil rights leaders like King and Gandhi.
“Whether you are straight, or gay, … black, white, pink, green, we are all tied together,” Joyner said.
Juergen Steinmetz, co-founder of LGBT Hawaii and a travel industry expert, noted Hawaii and Florida both heavily rely on the tourism industry. While he did not think being a travel destination made the states particularly susceptible to an attack, he said the shooting could have “enormous impact” on LGBT tourism in the U.S.
An Orlando native came forward and spoke about her middle school friend who was killed in the attack. Another man told the story of his brother-in-law who had intended to go to the club that night, but didn’t make it in time.
As darkness approached, people held hands and sang “God Bless America” and the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.”
The last person to speak said that while he was “puffy” from mourning the loss of the shooting victims all day, the event shouldn’t end on a negative note. He said the community should capitalize on the chance to be in the spotlight, and share its message of unity, love and pride.
“I’m going to live for those 50 people,” he said.