The tragedy in Orlando was brought a little closer to home for those attending Thursday’s vigil outside Guelph City Hall.
Standing quietly to the side was Juan Vielma, surrounded by his children and gripping a photo of his nephew Luis Vielma.
Luis Sergio Vielma, 22, was killed in last Sunday’s attack on Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
The photo showed a handsome, beaming young man giving two thumbs up.
“We have family down there. He lived down there,” said one of his cousins before bursting into tears.
Thursday’s vigil in Guelph drew around 500 people, several of who made their way over to the Vielma family following the speeches to offer handshakes, hugs and smiles.
Amy Ellard-Gray, chair of Guelph resource Out on the Shelf and one of the vigil’s organizers, said her feelings of sadness transitioned into “anger, rage and passion to fight for justice.”
“Witnessing events like this puts the LBGTQ-plus community back by leaps and bounds in terms of our mental health and well being,” Ellard-Gray said.
“My hope though is that we can also find strength in our identities and our communities. That we can feel enraged together and continue to struggle to find justice for those that lost their lives in this tragedy and others around the world.”
Dave Vervoot, a local therapist, author and active volunteer with Guelph’s LBGTQ community, was the first of eight speakers at the event.
Vervoot, an organizer of Thursday’s vigil, took people through his journey last Sunday.
“There are many emotions, both ones that are full of strain, but also ones that are full of love and compassion. For unity, as our community stands together,” Vervoot said. “But in order to get to that place we, as a community, must grieve.”
Mayor Cam Guthrie talked of how difficult it was to try and explain the events in Orlando to his children.
“In my struggle to try to explain, I decided it would just be better to gather my family at that moment, support each other and then we prayed,” Guthrie said. “That’s what we’re all doing tonight: by coming together, healing can begin.”
Guthrie said although the events did not happen in our community, they affect our community.
“Our city stands united in hopes for a better world. A world of love, peace, acceptance, belonging, safety and security for everybody,” Guthrie said.
Sara Sayyed of the Muslim Society of Guelph said her religion upholds the dignity and rights of all people, regardless of race, gender, religion or orientation.
“While I think it is important that we condemn this terrible act of violence, affirming the respect and love we have for one another, it is just as important to reject the continued efforts by many to perpetuate hatred and division amongst us.
“It is abhorrent that others would attempt to use this tragedy to define and divide us based on race, religion, nationality, gender or sexual orientation and that somehow such aspects of identity do not intersect or overlap,” Sayyed said.
Stevie Forbes-Roberts, a sexual-health educator with ARCH HIV-AIDS Resources and Community Health, said it was important and helpful to grieve together.
“There is also grief in our community for the shooter, for what he didn’t understand. Who was so consumed by what he didn’t understand, his own self-hatred, and for the gun control laws that allow violence like this to occur,” Forbes-Roberts said.
Forbes-Roberts concluded by saying: “our differences are our greatest strengths and that is the sunshine I believe.”
The event concluded with candles being lit and a song from the Rainbow Chorus.