Orlando Memorial: An Act of Solidarity

The following remarks were read by Allison Burgess, U of T Sexual & Gender Diversity Officer, at the Orlando Memorial: An Act of Solidarity on June 15, 2016 at 12:00 (noon) at the Memorial Benches, Hart House Circle.

“It is with a very heavy heart that I stand here today, in the wake of the 49 lives lost and the 53 people who were physically injured in the shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. I am devastated.  I am mourning, and I am grieving for these LGBTQ+, racialized, Latinx people.  And I feel such a deep pain – it makes my heart ache – when I think about the friends and families of those most directly affected by Sunday’s massacre.

We are here to remember.  And we are here to practice solidarity. Because while we mourn the many losses from our LGBTQ+ community, most of whom were racialized people, and while we hope for speedy recoveries for those who were injured, we also resist and repudiate all forms of hate that have emerged in the wake of these events.

While Pride events more recently certainly here in Toronto may have felt like celebrations, we are here to remember that Pride is also built on a history of commemoration – a history of active resistance to homophobia and transphobia.  From the violence at Stonewall in New York City in 1969 to the Toronto Bathhouse Raids in 1981, to this shooting in Orlando only days ago, and to all the forms of violence experienced by queer, trans and racialized communities every single day, we come together today, and during Pride to say: we are here and we remember, we love and we are loved.

This attack happened in a gay nightclub, where many LGBTQ+ people go…because for many LGBTQ+ people it’s the only place they can go… just to be. Queer clubs and bars have, for many years, for many LGBTQ people, been such important and rare spaces for us to meet, to explore our identities, to find each other.  An attack on this space feels like an attack on a really tender and precious space.

Additionally, for some, the process of being named or of sharing their grief or loss with friend and family will be a process of being shamed or being outed, and this in itself is another form of violence in the wake of this tragedy.

We are so grateful for the outpouring of love and support that has also been shown since Sunday. We have seen so many messages expressing solidarity and there is so much strength in this moment when we come together to say that we will not tolerate hateful violence.  We actively resist homophobic and transphobic violence; we actively repudiate the racist, anti-Muslim and Islamophobic rhetoric that has arisen in response to this attack, we actively work together within and across our differences to protect our campuses and our communities from hate.

You may know that in Orlando there is a blood ban, which functionally denies gay, bi and queer men from making blood donations. This means that gay men in Orlando have not been allowed to donate blood to help those injured in the shootings. And this makes me feel frustrated. But then I read online yesterday that even though people are fasting for Ramadan, that members of the Muslim community in Orlando lined up for hours and hours in the hot sun in order to be able to donate their blood to those who were injured in this shooting. This is an incredible example of the outpouring of love, support and community strength in the wake of this tragedy.

We come together today to mourn and to grieve, to be together and to show our strength, our love and our hope.

Let us remember.

Let us support one another.

Let us love one another.

And let us dance fiercely, with pride.”