Shaken by the events in Orlando, the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, on Monday evening, June 13, the gay community of New York flocked by the thousands to the Stonewall Inn, where the riots of 1969 began the modern gay rights movement, on Christopher Street but a few blocks from my West Village apartment. Brandishing STOP THE HATE and LOVE WINS signs and waving American and rainbow flags and holding candles, they deposited flowers and cards and flickering candles in front of the Inn’s red-brick façade and at the foot of the life-size statues of two gay men in the Sheridan Square park across the street. “Going to the bars now is an act of activism and defiance,” one young man was quoted as saying. “It’s a powerful reminder to people that we stand together.”
Packed tightly together in the triangle of streets facing Stonewall, they heard speeches by Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner William J. Bratton, other elected officials, singer Nick Jonas, and actor Tituss Burgess. The speakers lamented the massacre in Orlando and the lack of Congressional action to pass comprehensive federal gun control legislation.
“We passed gun control in this state,” said Cuomo, standing at a lectern bearing a sign WE ARE ORLANDO and flanked by the U.S. flag and a gay pride flag. “We outlawed assault weapons in this state. We know it can be done.”
“We do not accept anyone who would sow division or hatred,” insisted the Mayor. “We do not accept the notion of our leaders showing hatred and division in the wake of tragedy. And that means you, Donald Trump!”
Mr. Trump, born and bred in New York, was not present, busy as he is campaigning elsewhere. The crowd was well aware that Omar Mateen, the Orlando killer, was also born in New York, and perhaps likewise aware that two of the known victims were from here, one of them vacationing in Florida, and the other having moved to Orlando.
On duty at the rally were hundreds of specialized police officers, many in counterterrorism gear, while hundreds more, some in uniform and some not, were on the watch at heavily trafficked areas of Manhattan and at sites frequented by gay people. Quite a change from 1969, when the only police at Stonewall were staunchly preserving the public peace by doing battle with gay rioters.
As night came on, participants read aloud the names and age of the victims. As a gust of wind whipped through the crowd, the mourners raised a hand to guard their candles, aware of the symbolic significance of the persisting flames.
Meanwhile the spire at One World Trade Center, whose illuminated tower I see from my kitchen window every night, glowed with the colors of the rainbow, and City Hall’s elegant Federal façade was colored with lights and rainbow flags. In 1969, needless to say, such displays of solidarity would have been inconceivable.
Such is the coverage of the Times and other standard news outlets. But a friend of mine who attended the rally adds a piquant detail or two. The crowd listened dutifully and then cheered as the Governor, who spoke first, orated, but when the following speeches droned on and on, it grew restless. “Say their names,” it began to chant, and the outburst continued. “Get off script!” the mourners demanded. “Say their names!” Speechifying was all very well – up to a point – but they were there to hear the names and heap up flowers, cards, and candles. When the chanting began, my friend assured me, it was the most powerful part of the vigil.
The book: No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World, my selection of posts from this blog, has received two awards: the Tenth Annual National Indie Excellence Award for Regional Non-Fiction, and first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards. (For the Reader Views review by Sheri Hoyte, go here.) As always, the book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Coming soon: Con Men, Scams and Frauds. Have you ever been conned? Learn about the scams of today, and how to avoid them.
© 2016 Clifford Browder