Forty-nine names were read, and candles lit Friday at Zion Lutheran Church in La Grande to honor the victims of the June 12 Orlando, Florida, shooting.

Twenty-nine-year-old Omar Mateen,of Fort Pierce, Florida, opened fire at gay nightclub Pulse in an attack that left 49 people dead and 53 more wounded, police said.

On Friday night at Zion Lutheran Church in La Grande, members of the local Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, as well as congregation members of Zion Lutheran, La Grande United Methodist and St. Thomas

Episcopal and members of Oregon Rural Action, gathered together to pay their respects to the victims.

The speakers had a unified message when they stood and faced the circle of people around them — stop the hate.

“Each man and woman had a name and a face,” said Dave Wahler, president of PFLAG. “To lose sight of that is giving up our humanity.”

The room was somber, and people were invited to speak about the event and their feelings.

Colleen Nelson, pastor at Zion Lutheran, stood at the podium while the room was silent and paused for reflection.

“We are reduced to silence in the face of this tragedy and targeted hate,” Nelson said. “Out of that silence comes speech.”

Nelson said the victims in Orlando aren’t some abstract people — they’re all of us. They’re our brothers and sisters, our mothers and daughters, sons and fathers.

“Tonight, I say, ‘No’ to the creation of categorization,” she said. “It’s time to say, ‘No’ to the hate.”

The speakers at the vigil collectively spoke against the hate they felt out of Orlando, as well as the hate they have received personally.

Clyde Clark, a member of PFLAG, said this has been an emotionally trying experience for him.

“I was angry at first that people were killed for who they loved or who they associated with,” he said.

Before the vigil, Clark said once he found friends in the area who supported him, the sense of community is strong. But he said he also has to deal with the subtle undertones of homophobia.

Mike Shearer is no stranger to that. He said he grew up in the 1950s in rural Kansas.

“I thought I was the only one,” he said of being gay. “You yearn for the day you could be visible. Where you could go out and go to a dance club.”

A member of Oregon Rural Action, Austin Sanders, said he was numb by the news that there was another shooting. That feeling then transformed into wondering how someone could hate another group of people so much.

“Don’t answer hate with more hate,” Sanders said.

Some of the participants in the vigil cried quietly through the reading of the names or the comments
others made afterward.

Shearer said he organized the first gay marches in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The protesters outnumbered the participants in the march, he said. It wasn’t easy for participants to walk the streets in front of so many people, including their own coworkers or family members who had hateful signs — but they did it anyway.

They haven’t stopped the lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and transgender community yet, he said.

“We didn’t stop, we aren’t and we won’t,” Shearer said. “But it sure seems it’s taking a long time for us to learn a lesson.”

Contact Cherise Kaechele at 541-786-4234 or ckaechele@lagrandeobserver.com. Follow Cherise on Twitter
@lgoKaechele.

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