Among a sea of rainbow flags, candles and raised smartphone lights, one by one the names of the dead were read.
After each name, the crowd spoke as one.
“Rest in power.”
This was the scene last night at historic New York City gay bar The Stonewall Inn, where thousands gathered at to hold a vigil for the 49 victims of the Orlando Pulse nightclub attack. The attack, in which a gunman shot his way into a gay dance club in Orlando, Florida with a AR-15-style assault rifle, is the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.
Monday night’s vigil followed a more informal gathering at Stonewall Sunday night, which turned into a spontaneous march.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, NYC Anti-Violence Project director Shelby Chestnut, and several openly gay members of the New York City Council were among numerous local activists and politicians who spoke at the vigil. All of the speakers urged unity and inclusion, with Cuomo in particular passionately demanding stricter gun control from the U.S. government.
“How many people have to die before this federal government comes to its senses,” said Cuomo at the vigil. “We had Columbine, we had Virginia Tech, we had Sandy Hook, we had San Bernadino, we had Aurora Colorado, when does it stop?”
Located in Greenwich Village in Manhattan, The Stonewall Inn is hallowed ground for the American gay rights movement. It was outside of Stonewall where a group of drag queens and other bar patrons fought back against police harassment in June 1969, kickstarting the “Stonewall Riots” which is now known as perhaps the single most important event in the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights in the U.S. The Inn was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2000, and an NYC Landmark in 2015.
“I can remember the days when cops were raiding this place,” 91-year-old William Drummer told The New York Times, “It touches my heart to see this kind of solidarity.”
Since the groundbreaking protest, Stonewall has become a gathering place for LGBT solidarity in moments of crisis and triumph. As Tim Teeman wrote in June 2015, “When something momentous happens in the struggle for LGBT equality—and the last three times this has happened on the eve of New York’s Pride event—there is only one place for New Yorkers and those visiting the city to go... The Stonewall Inn.”
At the end of the vigil, attendees raised candles in the windy air as the names of the victims were read. As people eventually dispersed, candles flickered amongst the signs, flags, and flowers placed under the red glow of Stonewall’s neon sign.