By Archives Staff | Out of the Archives
June 12, 2016 is a date that will be burned forever into the collective memory of our community. In the early morning hours of that day, 49 of our siblings were senselessly murdered in a horrific act of hate at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Our community was shaken to its core; in the midst of nearing Pride celebrations, we were reminded that violence can and does sometimes enter our sacred spaces.
The global reaction of support was swift and overwhelming. Vigils quickly grew in major cities across the world, with allies condemning the act and honoring those who were lost. News sources focused on remembering the victims, telling their stories, and saying their names.
San Diego came out en masse to show our solidarity with Orlando. On that Sunday evening, there was an impromptu candlelight vigil and gathering at the base of the Hillcrest Pride Flag monument, with hundreds in attendance.
The next day, on Monday, June 13, the San Diego LGBT Community Center organized a formal candlelight vigil, also at the base of the Hillcrest Pride Flag, followed by a march to Rich’s Nightclub, two city blocks away. Thousands of our community members attended — some carried signs, others embraced. Some exclaimed loud support for the many moving speeches, and others found solace in silence. Almost everyone lit candles, marched and cried together as one.
After these two vigils and throughout the following week, candles and signs and other items were left at the base of the flagpole, which had become a physical, makeshift memorial to those we lost that night in Orlando.
The impromptu memorial remained for many days, reminding us to remember our losses, but also to remember our resilience. After about a week, the Hillcrest Business Association gathered up the materials that had accumulated at the Pride Flag, and all seven boxes were donated to Lambda Archives for preservation.
A majority of the vigil materials were prayer candles of varying shapes and sizes. Many featured images of Catholic saints, though some included homemade labels, with handwritten messages addressed to victims, their family members, and Orlando as a whole. There was even a set of candles labeled with some of the victims’ names and ages.
One of the most touching pieces of ephemera was a partially burnt letter, found inside a pillar candle.
It was an anonymous letter from a gay man — one whose urgency was surely inspired by this reminder of mortality and the necessity to live authentically. In it, the author detailed his coming out to his father, who, though loving and supportive, had warned his son to be careful in a world that aimed to harm him and erase his existence. He had reassured his father the world was now safer for LGBTQ people — but this recent event made him think of his father’s words immediately.
Despite the tragedy, the author encouraged people to keep living “without hesitations — because it [is] worth it to celebrate.” He also had a message for the 49 lost: “I wish there was some way for you to feel how much love the world is sending you.”
Much of the other material gathered from the vigil consisted of signs and posters. Many of the handmade signs included hashtags like #OrlandoStrong and #WeAreOrlando, meant to evoke solidarity, and form an interconnected web of virtual and tangible media, photos, and vigils across the internet and the globe.
One very special poster came from the Monarch School, a public K-12 school located Downtown that serves homeless students who live in San Diego County. The Monarch students and teachers created a 10-foot-long poster that was hand-drawn and painted, and included personalized messages to the victims, messages of allyship, and prayers for Orlando. There were over 40 signatures on the poster.
Another poster that was especially noteworthy was one that included the names and ages of all 49 victims.
In mass shootings of this magnitude, sometimes victims’ identities have become shrouded under news coverage of the shooter’s backstory, the international political fallout, and debates about gun control; however, by naming and memorializing each individual victim, we center them by ensuring that their lives are honored and their memory is not forgotten.
Following the shooting, the Orlando Sentinel newspaper created a collection of images, stories, and interviews about the lives of each one of the 49 victims — each had their own personal memorial page. Their coverage of the shooting and its aftermath won a first-place prize at the National Headliner Awards for news that dignified the lives of the victims and their families.
By continuing to say their names, the materials housed at Lambda Archives will do the same.
As we approach the one-year anniversary of the Pulse shooting, we must look to the LGBTQ community’s long history of supporting one another in times of crisis and tragedy, and we must continue to uplift each other with this history in mind. We must continue to say each other’s names in the face of homophobia, transphobia and violence.
The year since Pulse has not been easy. We are living under an administration that aims to remove our rights. We are fighting for the most basic civil rights of our trans community, and our trans siblings of color are being murdered at alarming rates. It is our duty to live courageously in these times and to hold one another when our courage falters. We must allow ourselves sadness as we remember the events of Orlando, but we must know that we have been through this before, and we have come out on the other side, stronger than ever.
Lambda Archives is proud to house the San Diego Orlando Pulse vigil materials, and to document our community’s commitment to solidarity in this memorial.
For more information on the Orlando collection or any of our other collections, contact archivist@LambdaArchives.org or call 619-260-1522.
This article was authored by Hartlyn Haynes and Bonnie Hullings, two graduate students from San Diego State University who are performing collections processing while interning with the Archives.
—Lambda Archives, a 501(c)(3) dedicated to collecting, preserving and teaching the history of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in San Diego and the Northern Baja California region, is located at 4545 Park Blvd., in University Heights. To learn more, stop in or visit their website at lambdaarchives.org.