The death of 50 people in the shooting at an Orlando nightclub this weekend brought hundreds out to a vigil at Saskatoon City Hall Sunday night.
“It’s an event to commemorate the loss of our friends and honour their memory and this fight, this struggle, that’s been ongoing for such a long time; to make sure that people understand why it’s necessary,” organizer Kevin Seesequasis said.
Seesequasis organized Pride events this week on Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation, a first for a Saskatchewan First Nation.
He said the message from the vigil was simple.
“We’re stronger than ignorance and bigotry and hate. And that love will be that beacon of hope that people need, particularly right now,” he said.
Around 250 people were at the vigil; leaning on one another for support, with tears running down cheeks.
“It reminds us that Pride and the parade and everything like that is still important to fight for equal rights” – Aaron Paetch, Divas Nightclub
“Right now, it’s just a time for sadness for the communities affected by this mess,” said Thomas Gendzwill, who attended the vigil because he wanted to be around people after hearing the news.
“I’m trying to teach all my children that love is love; it doesn’t matter who you love, and it’s nobody else’s right to judge that,” said Shauna Arop, who attended with her daughter.
Fifty candles were lit during the night – one for each of the victims killed in the shooting; 53 others were injured.
On Monday, Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison released a statement condemning the attacks:
“I was shocked and saddened at the tragedy in Orlando, Florida. Once again the world stands united against an act of terrorism and hate. Today we grieve for the victims and offer our condolences to their families and friends. Our thoughts and prayers are also with those who are in the hospital recovering from the attack.
Members of the LGBTQ2 community, those with different religious beliefs, or ethnicity should be safe in our communities. Acts of terrorism and hate must not divide us rather we must unite as a community against them.”
The city said flags on civic buildings, already at half-mast, will now take on additional significance.
The timing of the shooting, coinciding with Pride Week, had a number of people in Saskatoon thinking about the fight for equal rights.
“I wouldn’t call it a setback. Obviously it is devastating to hear, but it reminds us why Pride is here. It reminds us that Pride and the parade and everything like that is still important to fight for equal rights,” said Aaron Paetch, general manager of Divas Nightclub.
“It’s shocking, right. It’s nothing you would ever expect to wake up to after celebrating pride with everyone in the community,” he said.
Toby-Dawn Smith attended the vigil, she said the shooting shows the need to have Pride week.
“This is why the fight is still happening. We’ve come a long way, but the fight is still going on,” she said.
Her young daughter, Lilian, said one day she hopes “there will never be any hate in the world.”
Speakers at the event included Coun. Charlie Clark, Garnet Woloschuk and Amanda Guthrie with OutSaskatoon, Brice Field with Saskatoon Pride, Mateen Raazi with the Islamic Association of Saskatchewan and Rev. Deborah Walker.
Edit: Atchison’s statement was amended by the Mayor’s office.