About 200 people attended a vigil in Steinbach for the dozens of people killed and wounded in a shooting at an Orlando, Fla., gay nightclub Sunday.
Forty-nine people were killed and more than 50 people were wounded as Omar Mateen stormed Pulse nightclub and opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle and handgun. After a three-hour standoff, police killed the shooter, ending what is considered to be the largest mass shooting in U.S. history committed by a lone-gunman.
On Tuesday night, Steinbach residents came together to grieve the loss of so many lives.
Michelle McHale, a spokesperson with Steinbach Pride, said she was pleasantly surprised with how many people attended. Organizers had arranged to have enough candles for 50 people and ran out twice, McHale said.
"This night was about a few things. Obviously, paying tribute to those who lost their lives in the horrific attack the other night in Orlando, but simultaneously it was also about letting LGBT folks know here that it's really important they have the freedom to grieve and that they know they're supported," McHale said.
"When you face oppression everyday to just be who you are, it becomes difficult to also express how you feel about tragedy when you're linked somehow."
'Our blood is all red'
"It's just like a war. It shouldn't matter who you are. Our blood is all red," said Kevin Roy, who attended the vigil with his wife. "It's a fight for human rights."
Kevin's wife Pat Roy said she wanted to support all of the families in mourning. "Our hearts are with them," she said.
The southeast Manitoba city, located 52 kilometres east of Winnipeg, will be holding its first ever LGBT Pride Parade July 9.
John McDougall lives in Winnipeg but travelled to Steinbach for the vigil. His husband lives in Edmonton. While serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, McDougall has lived in 13 different places and said he was impressed with the turnout at the Tuesday vigil.
"For the community to hold this vigil, to be open enough for a pride parade, I'm gobsmacked," McDougall said. "I think it's amazing, for a small town."
McDougall said he attended in support of all of the victims, but he feels especially connected to 29-year-old Antonio Brown, who was in the U.S. Army Reserve.
'Love wins always'
Manitoba NDP interim leader Flor Marcelino told the crowd that clubs like Pulse serve as safe havens for many people in the LGBT community. In Manitoba, many LGBT people from outside Winnipeg travel to the city and attend its LGBT nightclubs for the same sense of safety and belonging, she said.
"Manitobans are sadly no strangers to hate and bigotry, so we need to stand with the LGBT community to show them they're safe," Marcelino said, adding "love wins always."
During the attack, Mateen made a 911 call and pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group (ISIS). U.S. President Barack Obama announced Monday that the attack appears to be an example of "homegrown terrorism."
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Seventeen-year-old Mika Schellenberg, who is an openly gay student in Steinbach, said while the entire world is in pain after the shooting, it's important to remain bold and push for a more open and compassionate society
Schellenberg recently called on the Hanover School Division to update its diversity policies to be more inclusive and allow instructors to teach and recognize LGBT sexuality in its schools.
'I don't know that this would have happened five to 10 years ago.' - Michelle McHale
There have been recent comments online and in the local paper that have been intolerant of the LGBT community. Mark Loewen said that's not representative of the wider community at all, especially given how many people came out to the vigil.
"Proportionally, this is huge, this is monstrous," he said. According to Statistics Canada in 2011, Steinbach is home to roughly 13,500 people. "It's an amazing, wonderful town."
Despite recent public examples of homophobia in the community, McHale said things are slowly getting better.
"It's important to know that people don't all believe that," McHale said.
"I think they are changing, I think we have some work to do still with the school division. I think there's work to do maybe in educating folks about what it is that really is accurate when it comes to the LGBTTQ community. I think that's really important, but if you look at this turnout here, I don't know that this would have happened five to 10 years ago."
With files from Erin Brohman