Rain and thunderstorms did not dissuade a sizable crowd of community members from gathering at the Salt Lake City County Building on June 13 to honor the victims of the recent shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
The violent attack occurred early the morning of June 12, leaving 49 dead and 53 wounded in the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, according to the New York Times.
Those attending the vigil came from all walks of life—families, students, members of the LGBTQIA+ community and allies—to listen to speeches and music, grieve and find comfort together. Many lit candles, and the crowd observed a moment of silence for the victims of the shooting.
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski opened the memorial with a speech, where she not only expressed her support for the LGBTQIA+ community but also called for the removal of military-style weapons from the streets and a more serious conversation about mental illness.
Students and faculty from Westminster College attended the vigil, including President Steve Morgan and his family, Dean of Students Mark Ferne, Assistant Dean of Students Karnell Black, and Assistant Professor of English Eileen Chanza Torres.
“I, like many, woke up Sunday just absolutely angry that once again this has happened,” Morgan said. “I needed to come to express my anger and process it. I’m an ally to the LGBTQ community, and that [the attack] was directed at them says we still have so much work to do, and I just couldn’t stay away.”
Black, assistant dean of students, also spoke about the need to make changes to protect the LGBTQIA+ community.
“It’s sad, but I think it also reaffirms the work that needs to be done in our country… in our own city and our own backyard,” Black said.
Westminster student Levi Barrett said he attended the vigil to unite with the community.
“In times like these where part of my community is hurt, it’s important to show up for those who don’t have as much as a voice as I do as a white, masculine-presenting trans man,” Barrett said. “And because I’m also hurting, to just have community and be around people you love and care about.”
The shootings at Pulse happened on the club’s Latin night, and Biskupski, Salt Lake City mayor, acknowledged the impact of the attacks on the Latin community.
“The Latino face of this tragedy must not be whitewashed,” Biskupski said.
However, Barrett said he feels both the news coverage of the shooting and the vigil held in downtown Salt Lake have been whitewashed. He said he wished there would have been a Spanish translator at the event and more people of color speaking to bring voice to other identities in this tragedy.
As attendees tried to make sense of the senseless, many of those in attendance at the vigil expressed frustration at the current climate of violence.
“I wish I could say this will be the last time we have something like this,” said Morgan, Westminster’s president. “It won’t be, so we have to do something about it. We’ve got to change our politics and the hatred.”
Black, assistant dean of students, agreed that it’s time to move beyond words.
“We can always talk about it, but we have to move beyond talking about it and create action,” he said.
For Westminster students struggling in the wake of this tragedy, Westminster has resources available at the counseling center, the Dean of Student’s office and the Center for Diversity and Inclusion.
“I hope [the LGBTQIA+ community] knows that they have an ally in me and that we want Westminster to be a safe place for them,” Morgan said.