A crowd of hundreds filled the Ynot Lot in Station North to capacity and spilled out onto Charles Street for a candlelight vigil on Monday, June 13, organized by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLCCB) to mourn the 49 victims of a mass shooting at a LGBTQ club in Orlando, Florida.
Politicians, community leaders, religious leaders, artists, activists, and individuals affected by the killings at Pulse nightclub stood on the stage to express their sadness over the shootings and pledge solidarity to the LGBTQ community in Baltimore and elsewhere.
With the 41st edition of Baltimore Pride set to take place next month, several speakers touched on the importance of that event, which earlier this year was reportedly suffering financial troubles.
Jabari Lyles, president of the GLCCB, reminded the audience that the festival began as an act of political dissonance.
"It's times like these when Pride is most important," he said. "So don't cower in your houses."
Kevin Holt, the outreach coordinator for the organization, later gave a fiery speech urging people that "we're here to celebrate life and love."
After telling the crowd that a friend of his was one of the victims in Orlando, he implored, "We do not have to let ignorance and hatred kill Pride."
Mostly, though, the vigil was a time for mourning and unity.
An emotional Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake gave heartfelt remarks pledging support to the city's LGBTQ citizens.
"I stand with you and Baltimore stands with you," she said to applause, later adding, "I want you to know that I love you and I want you to love yourself."
Referring to the absence of media during the moments of rebuilding following the Baltimore Uprising, she told the crowd, "We're gonna be there whether the cameras are there or not."
Some vigil attendees, however, turned their back while Rawlings-Blake spoke.
Police Commissioner Kevin Davis received an even colder reception. The city's top cop was booed as his name was announced, which appeared to shock the police working the vigil. After he closed his remarks by saying his department understands the "civil rights struggle that is uniquely the LGBT [community's]," someone to the right of the stage loudly yelled, "Fuck you!"
Speaking of the GLCCB's efforts to work with the police department, Lyles said: "It is certainly nice to see we have the BPD's attention on this. And we're gonna hold them accountable." The crowd cheered.
Two of the candidates running to replace Rawlings-Blake, Joshua Harris (Green) and State Sen. Catherine Pugh (Democrat), also spoke.
"I stand here in solidarity with each and every one of you to say that we will not accept the violence," said Pugh.
"I don't have all the answers... the only thing that conquers hate is love," said Harris.
Both drew connections between the Orlando killings and the larger issues of gun violence, nationwide and in the city, with Harris referencing shootings such as Sandy Hook and Columbine and Pugh pronouncing, "We cannot have these guns in our communities killing our people."
Del. Mary Washington talked about her own experience coming out and, after blasting the federal laws that allow killers to buy AR-15s and other assault rifles, assured that the people assembled would not respond with hate toward Arab-Americans, immigrants, or refugees.
"None of us is safe when hate has its finger on the trigger," she said.
She also said "we are to create a world" where LGBT people are free to live in safety.
Many of the most impactful moments came from activists and organizers within the LGBT community.
Echoing his rhetoric with the Black Lives Matter movement, of which he is one of the most prominent national figures, activist DeRay Mckesson said that, "This is a call to action as much as it is a reflection, and I hope we can do that together."
Earlier during his remarks, he talked about his own experiences growing up in Baltimore—"I remember the sting of the word 'faggot' as a kid in this city"—and reminded the crowd that hatred against the LGBT community affects people with or without a partner.
Bryanna Jenkins of the Baltimore Transgender Alliance was moved to tears as she took the stage.
"I can't do this shit no more. I can't do it no more," she said. "I'm tired. I'm so tired."
Following shouts of encouragement from the crowd, she spoke passionately about her experiences as a trans woman, saying that every day she leaves her house she has to accept that she might die.
"I choose to walk with my armor on," she said. "It hurts me to my core that our family was taken like this."
"Let's use that energy to continue to fight," she said as the crowd's support continued to grow.
To loud cheers she said the Florida shooter, Omar Mateen, "was a child of America" and that homophobia and transphobia were to blame for the killings, not Islam.
Kenneth Morrison, the executive director of arts organization Dew More Baltimore and director of programs at GLCCB, read a poem about the events in Orlando called "On That Night They Danced," which served as a rallying cry for LGBTQ unity.
Among the lines: "I want you to hold hands like the whole world is watching/ I want you to love like the whole world is watching."
"When death is at your front door, your only response is to dance until you can't dance no more."
Poet Saida Agostini also read a poem that celebrated the power of dancing and the club for the LGBTQ community.
Once the scheduled speakers were finished, Lyles opened up the stage to members of the community who wished to speak, drawing college students, the owners of the restaurant Flavor, the artistic director of queer theater troupe Iron Crow, poet Janea Kelly, and others.
As darkness finally settled in, and most of the candles in the crowd were lit, Lyles told the crowd "This is a family event" and directed people to repeat this line to their neighbors.
"We want to welcome you to our family," he said. "This is our family, this is your family."
Then, members of the GLCCB read the names of the 49 victims as the crowd offered a moment of silence.
"Folks, I want you to keep that love in your heart," Lyles said after the last name was read. "This light is for them."
The vigil closed with a musical performance by J-Pope, who was joined onstage mid-performance by rapper DDm.
During the song's chorus and near its conclusion, they both led a chant: "We are here!" It became anthemic, building into a roar that echoed through the night.
Additional reporting by Rebekah Kirkman and Brandon Soderberg