ORLANDO — About 5,000 people stood packed together in smothering humidity at Orlando’s Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on Monday.
A sea of candles dotted the crowd, and chants such as “Peace. Love. Pulse” emanated from the masses. Many listened intently as LGBTQ+ representatives, local government officials and religious leaders honored the 49 people who died after a shooting at Pulse nightclub Sunday morning.
“We love Orlando,” said Ron Legler, the co-owner of the club. “We opened Pulse for a place for you to feel safe and we will re-build that Pulse Orlando.”
Equality Florida hosted the event alongside partner organizations, such as the Human Rights Campaign, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, First Unitarian Church of Orlando and about 12 others.
A rainbow of colors spanned across signs that read “Orlando will be strong” and “LOVE conquers HATE,” and throughout the flowers held by cheering visitors.
Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan focused her speech on compassion and recovery.
“I have seen the power of love in Orlando, and I’m looking at it right now,” she said to the audience. “Orlando, we will get through this because we are a city that loves, and love conquers hate.”
Carlos Guillermo Smith, the government affairs manager for Equality Florida, told the crowd gun violence and bigotry against the LGBTQ+ community ultimately caused the massacre.
“Equality Florida, our LGBTQ Floridians, we all stand in solidarity, not just with the Latino community, but as well with the Muslim and Islamic community in opposition to intolerance and discrimination and hate crimes that our people continue to face,” he said.
Not only did the gunman attack the LGBTQ+ community where it felt most safe, Smith said, but he also attacked the Hispanic community.
“As I watch the families hugging their families, and we see the pictures on TV, I realize they look like my family,” he said.
Local firefighter Paul Urquijo joined the crowd and reflected on his own experience. Though he partied just like many others Sunday morning, Urquijo said he did so in the safety of another venue down the road.
He said it was impressive to watch thousands of people gather in solidarity Monday, bringing the city together for an evening.
Still, he said, the attack will remain a shock to his community.
“I was just having a conversation about how safe it is out here,” Urquijo said. “Sure enough, this [attack] happens.”