Local churches and an organization representing the local LGBT community are asking Columbus residents to remember the Orlando shooting victims during a local candlelight vigil.

First Presbyterian Church and Pride Alliance are sponsoring the vigil at 7 p.m. today, hosted by First United Methodist Church, 618 Eighth St.

Following Sunday morning’s fatal shootings in Florida, Ian Kohen, chairman of Columbus’ Human Rights Commission, sent out an email to the commission and other human rights groups in the city asking them to attend the vigil in solidarity.

“Now is the time for people of all backgrounds to unite. We have all been the targets before at one time or another. It has to stop,” Kohen wrote to local group representatives.

The indoor location at the church isn’t for security reasons, as was the case Sunday night in the Indiana Pride Alliance Network candlelight vigil at the Murat Egyptian Room in Indianapolis, an organizer said Monday.

The Columbus vigil will be conducted indoors because of the hot, humid conditions that have been forecast, said Rachael Spadone, who serves on the local Pride Alliance’s board of directors and is organizing the vigil.

Spadone began working on the tribute Sunday after reading about other events honoring the Orlando victims on social media and learning more about what the Indiana Pride Alliance did that night.

Christine Lemley, a representative from Interfaith Forum Columbus, said a Shoulder to Shoulder Vigil was being considered for a community gathering, but the organization was waiting to see what would unfold. Having other organizations plan the vigil might be an affirmation of the diversity of organizations in Columbus, she wrote in an email.

As Orlando investigators began releasing the names of at least 49 victims on Monday, many of whom were from Puerto Rico, and the 53 who were injured, Spadone said a vigil seemed like something Pride Alliance should do.

Spadone said she hopes it reminds people of Columbus that the LGBT community is part of the overall community.

Speculation and investigation continues on whether the shooter, 29-year-old security guard Omar Mateen, had been radicalized on the Internet and began shooting in the Orlando Pulse nightclub as a terrorist, or whether he was incensed over seeing two men kiss a few weeks earlier, with the shooting the result of bigotry against the LGBT community.

Diversity dialogs

Spadone, a respiratory therapist who has lived in Columbus for about two years, said she went through a pretty steep learning curve about the LGBT community when she moved to Columbus. However, she said the LGBT community has worked hard to be more integrated and comfortable in the community. That said, “there’s always more work to be done,” Spadone said.

Kohen said the LGBT community made positive steps when Columbus City Council approved an amendment to the Columbus Human Rights ordinance last fall, which added gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes within the city.

“I spent Saturday at the Indy Pride parade and there were a lot of Columbus people there,” Kohen said. “There are many people who support the LGBT community in Columbus, but there are still people who don’t understand that lifestyle.”

Sometimes those who don’t understand do radical things, he said.

After speaking with representatives of the local Muslim and LGBT communities since Sunday’s shootings, the deadliest in modern U.S. history, Kohen said he thinks both groups are afraid in the aftermath.

“I’ve been telling them that now is the time to be pulling together, not apart,” he said. “We need to find support from all in the community.”

Spadone specifically encouraged those in the Hispanic and Muslim communities to attend tonight’s vigil.

The Rev. Howard Boles, senior pastor at First United Methodist, said Spadone is a friend and had approached the Methodist congregation to host the vigil when trying to schedule it on short notice.

Boles said he would like to see good ecumenical representation at the event and hopes the vigil will be an opportunity for community residents to talk about what happened and to express their fears and their emotions.

The vigil will including the reading of the names of the victims with the tolling of a bell for each individual, he said.

It has also been customary to then light a candle for each victim, but that might not be possible at tonight’s vigil, Boles said.

There will be candles for those who attend to hold and light at the ceremony.

“Unfortunately, I’m not sure we have an area large enough where we can light 50 candles,” he said. “It breaks my heart to say that.”

The Rev. Felipe N. Martinez, pastor at First Presbyterian, said he hopes the vigil will show the Columbus community’s solidarity in support of those hurt by the mass shooting.

And he hopes the vigil will show support of the local LGBT community who feel more vulnerable every time something like the Orlando nightclub shooting happens, he said.

Martinez, who will be speaking at the vigil, said he senses concern among the local LGBT community in the aftermath of the shooting.

During his talk, he said he wants to ask the people of faith to lean on God and to lean on each other.

“Acts of terrorism cannot be the last word,” Martinez said. “We need to look for acts of kindness and compassion and love.”

If you go

What: Candlelight vigil to remember the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting

When: 7 p.m. today

Where: First United Methodist Church, 618 Eighth St., Columbus

Speakers: Still being organized, but those speaking will include the Rev. Howard Boles, First United Methodist Churcgh and the Rev. Felipe N. Martinez, First Presbyterian Church.

Author photo
Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.