ITHACA, N.Y. — On an evening that felt more like an autumn night than mid-June, people slowly staggered into Washington Park in Ithaca, standing in a circle near the south side of the park.
A few people pulled a candle out of their bag, placed it in a glass jar and set it in the center of the circle. One woman brought a pale pink peony and placed it alongside the candles.
The group stood in silence for about 20 minutes, until just past 9 p.m., as more people quietly joined the growing circle.
Then, Fall Creek resident Rebecca Lesses spoke.
“I just remember when I was their age and I used to go out…to dance and flirt…,” she said.
The “gay bar” scene was a safe space for the LGBTQ community at a time when Lesses said most communities were not friendly toward people of different sexual or gender identity. It was a place she could listen to the kind of music she likes and dress however she wanted to without judgement and with people who were like her.
Around 2 a.m. Sunday morning, Omar Mateen killed 50 people and wounded 53 in the worst terrorist attack on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001. After about a three hour standoff with police, Mateen was killed in a shootout with officers, The New York Times reported.
“It cuts me to the heart that this has happened,”Lesses said.
Like an invitation, her words opened the door for others to talk about how the shooting impacted them, many wiping away tears and holding each other.
One woman noted that more people were killed in Orlando than attended the vigil.
Another said that for weeks, politicians and the media will discuss whether Mateen suffered from mental illness and his affiliation to terrorism. “It just seems, to me, totally irrelevant,” she said because the motivation does not matter as much as the ease of accessing assault-style weapons.
“It’s just, it’s a really scary, it’s a really scary time,” she said.
Another woman said that allies of the LGBTQA community should be aware of their heterosexual privilege and let people know that they support people of different gender and sex orientations.
Before leaving the park, mourners stood in a closer circle and wrapped their arms around each other as a symbol of support and solidarity.
If you are anyone you know needs to access LGBTQA resources, click here. The website is a comprehensive list of resources in the area and was compiled by Ithaca College.