By Beth David
More than 200 people attended a candlelight vigil in front of New Bedford City Hall on Tuesday evening to show support for the victims of the shootings at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
Early Sunday morning, around 2, a lone shooter entered the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a gay bar that was hosting a Latin Night. Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 53. He was killed by police.
In New Bedford, the street filled with the familiar faces of those who were called upon to react 10 years ago when a man used a hatchet and a gun to attack three patrons at Puzzles, a gay bar in New Bedford. All three survived, but were seriously hurt. Jacob Robida killed an Arkansas police officer, a former girlfriend and himself three days after the attack in February, 2006.
On Tuesday, people gathered to show support and to be supported by each other.
“One thing about this community: When you pick on one of us, you pick on all of us,” said Barry Richard of WBSM, a sponsor of the event.
“I’m really angry and upset,” said Barbara Phaneuf of Fairhaven, adding that she went to the vigil for “peace and solidarity.”
“It helps to be with people, with like-minded people,” said Ms. Phaneuf. “To be with family. It’s really all family. To be sad together, to be angry together.”
Mayor Jon Mitchell told the crowd that New Bedford had a proud history of inclusion and diversity, going back to the whaling days and the days of the Underground Railroad.
“We want you all to know we stand with you as friends and fellow Americans,” said Mr. Mitchell.
He said the massacre was an attack on differences, and inspired by an ideology that sees differences as a threat.
“Our differences should be celebrated,” said Mayor Mitchell. “Our differences make us uniquely American and stronger as a people.
City Council president Linda Morad said people are angry and they should be.
“This kind of violence should not happen in the United States of America,” said Ms. Morad. “People died for us to live the way we want.”
Bev Baccelli, a well-known local activist and a founding member of the Marriage Equality Coalition that found itself in the forefront of the response to the Puzzles attack 10 years ago, said “we don’t really know why these things happen.”
She said that as far as the gay community has come, with the right to marry, and adopt, none of it seems any different than 10 years ago.
She said the most powerful thing the community can do is to get out and meet people and be open about being LGBT to combat stereotypes.
She said that is what happened 10 years ago, when people stood outside Puzzles on a cold February night.
“Because we have more in common than our differences,” said Ms. Baccelli.
She said people need to combat hate speech whenever they encounter it. Gay people need to tell their stories. Everyone needs to stand up for anyone being targeted.
“We’ve always been around,” she said, adding that Muslims are a newer target. “We have more in common with them than we have differences with them.”
“If you don’t [confront] hate speech each and every time you hear it, you become part of the divisiveness,” said Ms. Baccelli.
Andrew Pollock is also a well known face in gay activism in the area. He said the gay community has come a long way, reminding everyone how the Stonewall riots started because police officers routinely rousted and beat gays in bars.
Tonight, he said, they are here to protect the crowd, and will even take a picture with you.
But it is not far enough.
“I’m pissed. I hope you are, too,” said Mr. Pollock. “We should be righteously angry.”
He said the gay community puts up with small acts of violence every day. If you cannot get a coffee or a wedding cake, he said, “That is violence, not religious freedom.”
Just as it was a act of violence against blacks when they could not drink from certain water fountains or sit at the counter.
He said in 10 years he hoped to be celebrating more progress.
“But it’s up to us,” said Mr. Pollock.
Michael Immel, who was with a few friends, held a sign that said “Mattapoisett.”
He said they were there just to show support, “and make our voice heard against those kinds of things.”
Lisa O’Neill was there with a group of friends to show support for Orlando.
“It’s just emotion,” she said.
All six said it was the first event of its kind they had ever been to.
“Everybody’s special in their own way,” said Norman Gomes, adding that no one should feel they have to hide in fear. “We want to support people. Life is too short as it is.”
“It’s important to show support and be open,” added Roy Botelho.
Jealexis Roderiquez, 8, was there with her aunt Yelitza Roderiquez to show support for Leroy Fernandez, 25, who was killed in the Orlando attack. He was Yelitza’s nephew and Jealexis’s cousin.
Yelitza said it helped to be at the event because it unites everybody.
“So we can stop the hate,” she said.
Local singer Mike Couto and his daughter Lisa Couto sang several songs, including “Blowing in the Wind,” and led the group singing “Amazing Grace.”
For more information on the South Coast LGBTQ Network, visit www.sclgbtqnetwork.org.
Click here to download the 6/16/16 issue in its entirety: 06-16-16 OrlandoVigil