Town, state and federal leaders join activists and clergy in calling for action against hate.
By Dawn Ennis
Dozens of people from across Connecticut gathered in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square Saturday for a vigil and rally against LGBTQ+ hate and gun violence. West Hartford Pride organized the event, in partnership with several Connecticut gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights organizations, in response to the murders of five people at an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“Today we reflect. Tomorrow we demand action,” said Barry Walters, co-chair of West Hartford Pride. “With our allies, we can and we will fight back, with our voices, our pens, our votes, our money and when it is necessary, our lives.”
“A community is all about unity,” said Mayor Shari Cantor. “It’s about bringing us together, it’s about respecting each other, respecting all of us in every stage of our lives and in whatever we’re going through. I’m so proud of our community for being an embracing community and someone that does step in when times are hard.”
Deputy Mayor Liam Sweeney also spoke at the rally, as well as U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, state Sen. Derek Slap, state Sen. Dr. Saud Anwar and state Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, who led those attending in a moment of silence for the five victims at Club Q.
“It’s awful to be here, talking about this again, talking about people just living their lives and someone interrupting that with an automatic weapon and with hate,” said Sweeney. “But what’s so amazing today is seeing all of us here with love.”
“We are here to mourn and to reflect. But also to think about what we can do, because this is a call to action,” said Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, who spoke about the significance of elections and efforts to stop gun violence. “The first thing we all can do is vote because our lives depend on it in so many ways.”
Sen. Blumenthal told the crowd the U.S. Senate is also working to enact legal protections for marriage equality. “We will do it in the coming weeks,” he said. “We will pass the Respect for Marriage Act.”
Transgender activist and podcaster Karleigh Chardonnay Webb asked those in the crowd who identified as cisgender, meaning not transgender, to raise their hands. “The biggest threats to me are not necessarily Tucker Carlson. They’re not necessarily Marjorie Taylor Green. They’re that one transphobic jerk in your office. It’s that one uncle or aunt at your holiday dinner,” she said. “I don’t need you to have my back in that moment. I need you to stand shoulder-to-shoulder.”
In addition, members of the Town Council were in attendance: Ben Wenograd, Deb Polun, and Mary Fay. Queer nonbinary activist and author Leah Juliett opened the hour-long event with their rendition of Faith Hill’s When The Lights Go Down and three members of the Connecticut’s Gay Men’s Chorus closed with Ose Shalom, a Jewish hymn for peace.
Representatives of various faiths also attended, including members of the Pride Shabbat Committee at Congregation Beth Israel and Rev. Darrell L. Goodwin, an out gay man and the first Executive Conference Minister of the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ. He spoke directly to the members of the audience who are not LGBTQ+, asking them to not be allies but accomplices.
“Do not stand in front of me, because I’m clear about who I have been created to be,” said Rev. Goodwin. “Do not stand behind me, waiting on me to get the burden of everything that’s happening to me. But walk beside me, hand in hand, to the point that we cannot be divided, we cannot be crushed, we cannot be pushed to the side. Because we’re here, we’re queer and we ain’t going nowhere!”
Rev. Aaron Miller, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church in Hartford, is a transgender man, and he denounced what he called a “culture of hate” spreading across the nation, as evidenced in the Pulse massacre six years ago and at Club Q in Colorado.
“We stand here lifting up five more precious lives that have been stolen from us,” said Rev. Miller. “No doubt by hate. Hate that has been learned. Hate that became thought. Hate that became violent deadly action with readily accessible guns.”
Slap told the crowd “at the core” of the next regular legislative session in January should be gun control issues, such as Connecticut’s open carry law and issues of hate and discrimination. He noted Saturday was the 30th anniversary of the death of his father, a gay man and minister, from AIDS. Slap read from one of his father’s last sermons, citing James Baldwin.
“The sea rises. The light falls. Lovers cling to each other and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out,” he read.
“We’re going to cling to each other and we’re going to get through this,” added Slap.
Other organizations involved in the event included Triangle Community Center, Southington Pride, Suffield Pride, and Middletown Pride.
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