Jersey City LGBT activist Michael Billy exclaimed “We are Orlando!” on several occasions during a city vigil, where thousands attended, he helped organize in support of the Orlando LGBT community in light of the deadliest mass shooting in our country’s history.
“Yes Jersey City, one more time: We are Orlando! Jersey City has a long history, a long history of birthing amazing advocates, activists in our community. It’s one of the reasons why we’re here today,” said Billy while on stage at the Newark Pedestrian Plaza last night.
“One of the most diverse city’s in the nation, the largest LGBT community in the state: we are here representing.”
The event saw a tremendous show of support from residents throughout the state in wake of the tragic Orlando massacre where at least 50 people were killed with an assault-type rifle and pistol at a gay nightclub, with officials estimating approximately 3,000 people in attendance.
According to multiple reports, the shooter purchased both guns legally in the past week, even though the FBI investigated him for possible links to terrorism in both 2013 and 2014.
“This country can do better on guns,” Mayor Steven Fulop said during the program, a sentiment he has expressed in the past and a stance top Democrats such as presumptive presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has taken following the shooting.
Rev. Laurie Wurm, the rector for the Grace Church Van Vorst, compared last night’s vigil to one held back in 1982 after a gay man was hospitalized after sustaining a brutal beating she characterized as a hate crime.
Wurm stressed that in 2016, there’s no reason for anyone in the LGBT community to be ashamed of who they are.
“I want you to know that there are young people, the age of the people who were killed, at Pulse, who are gay and lesbian and bi-sexual and transgendered and queer and they are not out to their families,” the reverend said.
“And they are afraid … they are afraid tonight, and they may not even be out to their friends, and they are in this crowd. And I’m talking directly to you. I want you to know that you are not alone. I want you to know that you have several thousand friends right here on this street. You do not have to be afraid.”
Another speaker, Jersey City Gary & Lesbian Outreach Co-Founder Paul Mendoza – who also helps organize the city’s LGBT Pride Festival – said that while anyone in the LGBT community can be a victim of homophobia or bigotry, “hate does not win: love will conquer.”
“They had different backgrounds. They had different stories. One thing in common: they just wanted a night out, just to have some fun. I also heard, in the news, that this hateful person – who committed this horrific crime – was in Miami and it angered him when he saw two men holding hands.”
Mendoza then held the hand of his husband, Miguel Cardenas, before embracing him for a kiss – both to loud cheers and applause from the crowd.
“Well, you know what: hate can’t stop us, love will conquer. Hate can’t stop loving, me loving my husband. Hate never will. Hate does not win. Love will conquer. We live in the United States of America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. So is Orlando.”
The Jersey City Police Department and Hudson County Sheriff’s Office had a heavy presence at the event to make sure the event remained in order and no incidents were reported.