Community Holds Vigil In Response To Orlando Shooting
By IAN AUSTIN • for www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Before the candles were lit, and the names of the dead were read aloud in Muller Plaza, Rev. Craig Schwalenberg opened his sanctuary at the Unitarian Universalist Church to anyone who wanted to talk about the Sunday shooting at the Pulse night club in Orlando, Fla.
“I was raised to be homophobic” Schwalenberg tearfully admitted during his turn to speak. “I am deeply ashamed about some of the things I have said and done. But it was through meeting and working with gay people that convinced me to see the error of my ways.
“And now many of these people are my friends and colleagues,” he continued. “After I started ministry my own mother came out. I have stood at this pulpit and lit candles for the dead. I have read aloud the names of those killed. I don’t now how much more I have. I am running out of words, I am running out of tears. I am deeply gratified that I live in a community willing to stand with those who have been terrorized and victimized.”
Those in attendance then walked down to join the growing crowd in Muller Plaza, who had gathered for the candlelight vigil where spiritual and community leaders shared messages of strength, hope and love.
Rev. Teresa Sivers, First United Methodist, welcomed the crowd, saying, “We gather here in comfort, community and support. We proclaim we are a people who stand with peace and love.”
“On this day I am proud to be a member of this community,” said Mayor Gary Herzig. “We will have no tolerance for intolerance, but that does not make us safe. Do not react in fear. No one’s civil rights are conditional on their beliefs, lifestyles, gender or race.”
Herzig went on to read from a proclamation, “I declare that fear will not divide us; we recognize that the fear posed by hatred and violence perpetuated against the LGBT community to our American values of cultural diversity are a threat against our very way of like in the City of the hills, the County of Otsego, the State of New York, and the United States; and that we as a community stand firmly with our LGBT residents and the citizens of Orlando, Fla. in mourning this event.”
Lee Fisher, president of the local NAACP, drew many comparisons to feeling felt from during the assassinations of Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Columbine and more. “The last time I was standing here was last year after the shootings in South Carolina.” said Fisher. “And like then, these victims were in a a place that was supposed to be a safe haven and their lived were snuffed out by hate. We are living in a country of violence and we must do something about it. We have a chance to begin the healing with acts of kindness.”
The final remarks were from Craig Schwalenberg, who spoke from the heart, offering three points; ” First, let no one tell you you are less than you are. You are all equal and loved by the divine and you should be loved and celebrated as you are; as every human being deserves to be. Second, I say to the haters; you do not speak for us or the Holy. Your message of hate and fear is not needed or wanted here. It is killing us and it must stop. We will call you on it. Third; This (gathering) is an act of love. But love, like faith, is not passive. It requires more than actions and words. We must all do the work of actively loving each other.”
The names of the victims were then read by Council Member Michelle Osterhoudt, Fourth Ward, a bell chiming for each name, followed by the hymn “We Are a Gentle, Angry People.”