With candlelight vigils, marches, and moments of silence in state capitols, thousands of people gathered in states across the country Monday to mourn the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla., where 50 people were killed over the weekend.
The mass shooting has sparked political debates about gun control and the role of Islam in terrorism. But for many vigil attendees, the moment calls for a calmer, more unifying response of peace and comfort.
In Orlando, thousands gathered to honor the victims and survivors of the shooting. Many said Pulse was more than just a nightclub, playing a significant role in the city’s gay and lesbian community as a place to gather and find solace.
“Pulse gave me confidence, made me realize I was normal and so much like everyone else," Cathleen Daus, a former employee at the club, told the Associated Press.
At a gathering at a church near the French Quarter in New Orleans, Stephanie Oshrin, echoed those thoughts. “I’m part of a community where there are not a lot of safe places and there’s a real sadness that comes when one of those places you think is safe is violated,” she told the AP.
The vigils held across the country drew diverse crowds and featured different types of memorials, from a moment of silence in Alaska’s state capitol to a crowd of more than 2,000 in Los Angeles who gathered to read the names of the shooting victims aloud.
“Let's all today pledge an allegiance of love to them and to their families who are suffering so deeply," singer Lady Gaga told the crowd in California, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The rainbow flag flew on California’s state capitol and the state Senate chamber and small communities in Idaho gathered to remember the victims, while a gathering in Boston, Mass., included speeches in Spanish and English.
Some people noted that the shooting came in the midst of events to mark Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride month, with vigils held in locations that became significant milestones in gay-rights activism, such as New York’s Stonewall Inn.
As crowds chanted “love beats hate,” attendees and spectators at a rally at the popular gay bar in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village listened to speeches from elected officials, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Internationally, some people said they wanted to mourn the victims while also protesting increasing anti-Islamic sentiment that could come with the shooting, as police say the shooter pledged allegiance to the Islamic State before arriving at the Florida nightclub.
“The reason we’re here is to show solidarity with people in Florida. We’re also aware that there are people out there who have been engaging in Islamophobia,” Jake Johnstone, who attended a vigil in London’s Soho neighborhood, told the Guardian.
“A lot of comments have been made that the blame for this is with a religion rather than homophobia and hatred,” he said.
Thousands of miles away, a Muslim-American women’s group expressed similar concerns as they held a candlelight vigil in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington D.C., saying they had gathered to stand together against anti-gay, anti-transgender, and anti-Muslim violence.
In Baltimore, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake echoed those thoughts. “I think the only way to combat that hate is not a ministry of words, but of presence. Just being here is speaking volumes about who we are as Baltimoreans. We stand together," she said.
This report contains material from the Associated Press.