After lighting candles, the crowd stood shoulder-to-shoulder counting aloud to 50 to remember the people murdered in Orlando Sunday.
After lighting candles, the crowd stood shoulder-to-shoulder counting aloud to 50 to remember the people murdered in Orlando Sunday. Kelly O

More than a thousand people gathered Sunday at Seattle's Cal Anderson Park to mourn the victims of the mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando.

Elected leaders and activists spoke about the need for unity among the LGBTQ, Latino, and Muslim communities. A choir sang "We Shall Overcome" and attendees lit candles to remember the dead.

"I am Muslim, I am queer, and I exist," speaker Sonja Basha told the crowd. "Violent rhetoric is used to pit me against myself."

"The LGBTQ community and the Muslim family are not separate," Basha added later. "We mourn together."

In a park named after Washington's first gay legislator, Seattle's first openly gay mayor, Ed Murray, said "we will not be intimidated."


Both Murray and Washington Governor Jay Inslee called for action to address gun violence, but focused mostly on solidarity and resilience rather than policy.

"The greatest way we can honor those whose lives were lost," Murray said, "is to recommit ourselves to hope." (You can read the mayor's full remarks here.)

"Hatred is a common virus," Inslee told the crowd. "It affects us all."

The response to the shooting, Inslee said, "cannot be inaction in the face of intolerance. It cannot be passivity in the face of gun violence."

See more of Kelly O's photos from the vigil right here.

Ruslan Sudakov and Brian Henkel
Ruslan Sudakov and Brian Henkel HG

Ruslan Sudakov gathered with his boyfriend, Brian Henkel, and his mom, Wendy Wartes, at the park after the vigil. Sudakov said he was "heartbroken and disgusted" at the news of the shooting.

"It's good to see how many people are affected by this," he said about the vigil. "It's not just virtual, like on Facebook everybody just clicking 'like.'

Sudakov moved to the United States 21 years ago from Belarus, where he said he would have been persecuted for being gay.

"We adopted you to have you here to be safe," Wartes told her son. "The hardest thing for me is that even here you aren't safe. You could have been at a gay bar here. It could have happened here."

Henkel said the shooting made him pause before leaving the house Sunday, wondering, "What if someone came to the vigil? It stopped me in my tracks and I hesitated for a couple seconds."

Sudakov said he hopes LGBTQ people "don't get disheartened... because there's such a rich history of fighting back, of standing up no matter what and saying 'This is who I am and I'm okay with it.'"

Naomi Moore and Talia Johnson
Naomi Moore and Talia Johnson HG

Talia Johnson came to the vigil seeking community after a day of feeling overwhelmed by the news.

"This was a hate crime," Johnson said. "There's nothing else to it... He saw two men kissing and he didn't like that. You can't blame a religion. You can't blame anything else [other] than homophobia."

Her friend, Naomi Moore, said she felt desensitized. "Not being shocked by it—that kind of rocked me more than the actual shooting itself," Moore said.

"Being here is really inspirational," Moore said, "and it really galvanized me to feel like I need to learn more and honor more of the people who've sacrificed to make this OK and to allow everybody to be here right now and not have somebody come in and shoot us.

"You think about how many people are able to relate to the people in that club and to still be willing to come together and still have that strength to gather and know that we're still going to be visible. We're still going to exist and you can't push that down. You can't push us away and come into our environments and our safety and make it unsafe and defeat us like that."

Johnson and Moore, both 19 and queer, said their generation won't be deterred by repeated mass shootings and hate crimes.

"It's discouraging as a young person," Johnson said. "We're not even 20 yet and this is our world that's happening, but we're still fighting against it. It's not like we're going away any time soon. It's just that I feel like you have to grow up a lot faster when things like this happen.

"I would not say it's discouraging in that it makes us want to stop trying or it makes us want to not care," Moore added. "I think it's disheartening. It's frustrating to see. Not to make it super political, but I think a lot of people don't understand that social change is not about changing laws. It's about changing hearts."

Johnson added: "Then laws will follow."

Moore said "the amount of people hugging and loving and holding up signs and people clearly of different faiths and skin colors and genders" sent a clear message: "We're not discouraged. You can tell that there's still a lot of optimism. There's sadness, absolutely, but there's hope."