Community Mourns with Orlando

Photos by Morgan Burnett

The evening after over 100 people were shot and 49 left dead at Pulse, an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Gulfport residents gathered for a vigil outside the city library to cry, sing, hug and send their spiritual support to the dead and their survivors.

The vigil, held beneath the library’s rainbow flag – flown especially for June, LGBT Pride month – was one of many that took place around the nation and abroad as people mourned the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, and one that appears to have specifically targeted members of the LGBT community.

“At this time of horrendous tragedy, I really felt that I needed to have my Gulfport family close,” said Greg Stemm, who has lived in Gulfport for 16 years and joined dozens of adults and children at the vigil at 8 p.m. Sunday, June 12. “I needed to be with people I loved and cared for.”

Morgan Wujkowski said attending the vigil was very moving. “While it was a devastating day, particularly for the LGBT community, it was incredible to see the people of Gulfport come together in the face of tragedy,” she said. “It’s clear that the events in Orlando impacted everyone, regardless of sexual preference.”

As dusk began to fall, those present lit candles and burned notes they had written on paper. Gulfport Councilmember Yolanda Roman, who organized the vigil, said a few words, as did Councilmember Christine Brown and Vice Mayor Michael Fridovich. Participants sang “Amazing Grace” and remembered the victims with a moment of silence.

Afterwards, many lined up to sign a painting created and donated by Gulfport artist Jo Silverleaf expressing solidarity by the people of Gulfport with those of Orlando.

The painting, which depicts hearts against a rainbow background, will remain on display in the foyer of Gulfport City Hall until next Tuesday, June 21, available to be signed by other members of the community, Roman said. It will then be sent to the city of Orlando.

Roman said she was amazed by how many attended the vigil, adding that people needed to express their emotions and get support from others.

“Gulfport always responds in a time of need,” she said. “It was to share and grieve together and know we will get through this.”

The shootings took place as the St. Petersburg area prepares for Pride Weekend 2016 June 24 to 26.

“No single act of hate can detour us from coming together as a community,” St. Pete Pride Executive Director Eric Skains said in a statement on the organization’s website. “Pride and unity is more important now than ever before.”

The statement noted that since the Boston bombings, security at St. Pete Pride and other high profile events nationwide has been increased. “Each year we work with officials from the City of St. Petersburg on maintaining an environment that is welcoming and safe for all who attend,” the statement said.

On Tuesday OneBlood asked people to make appointments given the high response to the call for blood donations in the wake of the shootings.

“Right now the blood center team is working diligently to test and process the thousands of units of blood that have been donated,” the center said in a statement. Appointments can be made by calling  888-9-Donate or visiting OneBlood.org.

Financial donations continued to pour into GoFundMe accounts established in response to the shootings. As of Wednesday gofundme.com/29bubytq had collected nearly $400,000, while gofundme.com/PulseVictimsFund was close to meeting a $5 million goal.

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