The Orange County Register, June 13, 2016
By JESSICA KWONG / STAFF WRITER
SANTA ANA – The mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., early Sunday left the Orange County’s LGBT community heartbroken and trying to cope together through love.
People gathered at Plaza Calle Cuatro in Santa Ana on Sunday evening and held rainbow signs – some heart-shaped – spelling out “Orlando unidos,” Spanish for united. They lit the foot of the plaza’s platform with candles.
“With every candle that we light, let’s make a promise that we will not back down,” said Gary Polston, a board member of the LGBT Center OC, initiating a vigil that drew about 200 community members and public officials.
Less than 24 hours earlier, a gunman who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State killed 50 people and injured 53 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. It was the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, according to the FBI.
“The loss we sustained we will never be able to calculate,” Stephen Einstein, founding rabbi of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Fountain Valley, said as he led a prayer.
Even more devastating was the fact that the massacre took place during National Pride Month, when the strides of the community are celebrated, LGBT leaders said.
“I’m 73 years old. I’ve been through many battles,” said OC Human Relations Commissioner Sean Thomas, who is gay. That includes the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in 1965 with Dr. Martin Luther King, he said.
“But I have to tell you,” Thomas said, his voice cracking, “this was the worst.”
Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, said, “I can’t find words to express my disgust at the horror that happened.
“We express unconditional solidarity,” Ayloush said, adding that the LGBT community “has consistently stood by the Muslim-American community in the face of hatred, in the face of bigotry.”
Garden Grove Mayor Bao Nguyen, the first openly gay mayor in the county, called for comprehensive background checks and a ban on assault weapons.
“We will continue to seek allies and stand together until we achieve what this nation is about,” Nguyen said.
Chanting “More love, less hate,” the group carried candles and marched to Sasscer Park, where people gathered around a fountain and shouted, “Always united! Siempre unidos!”
Santa Ana resident Michael Orozco, 25, held a small rainbow flag in one hand and, in the other, the hand of his partner, Francisco Valentino, 23.
Sunday was Orozco’s birthday – the worst he’s had in his life, he said. But the vigil helped brighten his day “a little bit,” he said.
It helped him “to know that we actually have a community that is supportive of one another,” Orozco said, “That we have sisters and brothers standing next to us.”
Contact the writer: 714-796-7762 or [email protected] or on Twitter: @JessicaGKwong