With candles in their hands and mourning in their hearts, more than 200 people gathered Monday evening at the steps of Penn State’s Old Main in a show of support and solidarity in the aftermath of the deadly shooting early Sunday in Orlando, Fla.
Members of the Penn State staff and university students spoke before the crowd, standing at the top of a large rainbow flag that draped from the top of the steps to the bottom. To the left of the steps, a wreath was attached to a board bearing the names and ages of those killed in the attack.
“I am saddened and angry, because those people are my family,” said Muslim Students Association member and senior Zico Khayat. “All those deceased are my family.”
This person doesn’t practice my Islam, Khayat continued. The Islam, he said, of 30 percent of all critical care doctors who are surely attending to those in the hospitals.
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This man was not following my religion, he said, saying now is not the time to divide Muslims against the LGBTQA community.
“It’s time for us to unite as a diverse community,” he said. “To stand against the violence, hatred and actions of one person.”
It’s important to stand in solidarity and mourn those lost, Social Justice Coalition President Brian Davis said. But, he added, it’s important to talk about those lives and be specific about those lost.
“This was an act of terrorism and an act of hate toward our LGBTQA community,” Davis said, speaking of Pulse, a well-known central Florida gay bar and dance club where the shooting took place. “It wasn’t just a regular club, but a sanctuary for these people, free of hate, discrimination and feeling unaccepted.”
Davis related his own experiences at a gay bar while he was in Cuba, saying he’d never seen so much pride, confidence and happiness in a single place before.
Davis also spoke of religion, saying he wasn’t concerned with the religious preference of the killer, saying that “the religion didn’t kill these people — this man killed these people.
“It doesn’t matter what your religious preference is or your sexual orientation,” he said. “It’s about being a human, and we have to get back to that.”
Penn State Executive Vice President and Provost Nick Jones, who spoke on behalf of President Eric Barron who was unable to attend, said by standing together, the community sends a message that it abhors this and other acts of terror that affect all communities.
“By coming together tonight, we stand in solidarity with those who lost loved ones,” Jones said. “We stand in solidarity with everyone across our nation and the world who steadfastly objects to the hatred that fueled such a heinous criminal act.”
Jones reminded the members of the LGBTQA community that they have many allies at Penn State who mourn with and support them. He also said all Muslim students, faculty and friends are unified with the university in condemning the attack.
The names of 47 victims were read aloud, as that was the number of names available at the time the event was organized. Those gathered were encouraged to lock arms as the names were read and a bell was sounded after each name.
A moment of silence followed the reading.
Khayat said after the vigil that he was amazed to see everyone come together and respond with peace and support for each other. He added that it was important for him as an American and a Muslim who too frequently sees people killed, noting his family’s Syrian heritage.
Student Affairs staff member Josh Keilholtz said the event was very sobering, saying he himself was celebrating this past weekend when he heard of the shooting.
“Coming here tonight, it was really great to see so much unity and intersectionality in different communities coming together and showing support for one another,” Keilholtz said. “And I think that’s one of the most important things that could come from this.”
A separate community vigil is slated for 8 p.m. Tuesday at Penn State’s Allen Street Gates.
“I have posted some resources on our Facebook page,” said Allison Subasic, of the university’s LGBTQ Student Resource Center, which organized the vigil.
The university also responded earlier Monday.
“We are all deeply saddened by the atrocity in Orlando, and our hearts go out to the victims and their families. We join with the Penn State LGBTQ family in denouncing this senseless act of violence. As our community comes together in vigil at the steps of Old Main this evening, we stand together as one Penn State, committed to a vision of mutual respect and inclusion,” Barron said.