Several hundred people attended a vigil late Sunday in Olympia, galvanized by the horrific shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that took 50 lives. It was the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, according to published reports.
That led three community groups — Capital City Pride, Unity in the Community and Interfaith Works — to quickly organize a vigil at Sylvester Park in response to the shooting, and to “call on all members of our community to come out to grieve our loss and to express love, comfort and support tonight,” according to a news released issued early Sunday.
“When acts of hatred and violence occur, the goal is to drive us apart,” said Anna Schlecht of Capital City Pride during the vigil. “But we can find powerful ways to build our unity.”
That was the theme Sunday night: to come together as a community in the wake of the shooting, but to do so without spreading racism or Islamophobia.
Larry Watkinson of Olympia heard about the shooting late Saturday and his first thought was, “Not again, not again.”
Watkinson, who is blind, said he identifies with the LGBTQ community because he knows what it’s like not to be valued.
“I know what it’s like not to have community acceptance,” he said.
He said Saturday night’s shooting in Orlando was one of intolerance and a reminder about the need to address mental health issues in this country.
“This is where I need to be,” he said about his attendance Sunday night.
With him was Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia, who called the shooting shocking, but just as shocking, he said, is the country’s apparent unwillingness to address the issue of guns and mass shootings.
“What does it take to shock people?” he wondered aloud, citing the mass shootings in Columbine and Newtown.
He also said that people should not fear gathering, such as at a gay nightclub, but the climate of mass shootings has us all looking over our shoulders.
He said Sunday’s gathering was a good way for the community to share its grief and disbelief.
Larry’s daughter, Mishauna Watkinson, a student at The Evergreen State College, was extremely shocked at the news. She said Evergreen has a prominent LGBTQ community and that she wanted to come and show her support.
She also frequents the downtown Olympia bar Jake’s, a destination for the LGBTQ community, which made her think the shooting could have happened here.
“It’s heartbreaking,” she said.