Deadly Orlando mass shooting mutes Edmonton Pride Festival
'Thoughts and prayers with every brother and sister, stay strong and know we will overcome. Love wins'
On the final day of Edmonton's week-long Pride Festival, those who planned to celebrate Sunday woke up to fear and confusion instead.
Overnight 50 people lost their lives in the deadliest-ever U.S. mass shooting, at an LGBTQ club called Pulse in Orlando, Florida. The shooter, Omar Mateen, injured another 53 people before police killed him.
It hurts, it does, it hurts.- Mickey Wilson
In Edmonton, hundreds gathered at the Alberta legislature building to hold a vigil for the victims of the shooting.
Mickey Wilson, the executive director of the Edmonton Pride Centre, said that the deadly event "was like a kick to the stomach" after a week of celebrating LGBTQ pride in the city.
"The shadow of violence and hate that underscores the march to equity and the movement toward all people being equal," said Wilson. "Every once in a while it emerges and rears its ugly head.
"It hurts. It does. It hurts."
The hundreds joined their voices in songs of solidarity for the LGBTQ communities around the world, clutching candles for those who lost their lives.
Rebecca Yarema walked through the crowd collecting messages of support to send to Orlando.
"Thoughts and prayers with every brother and sister, stay strong and know we will overcome. Love wins," she read from one of the cards.
'Edmontonians stand firmly against hatred'
Earlier in the day, despite rainbow banners and flashy outfits, celebrations were muted at the annual Mayor's Pride Brunch.
"It's really hard to believe that this sort of thing can still happen anywhere in the world," said Mayor Don Iveson.
Wrapped in a shimmering black gown, Christy Heely sat and listened to the mayor's speech. A crown sparkled in Heely's hair, and a matching rhinestone broach pinned to the dress spelled out the word Duchess.
"I'm very proud of our city and our country and our diversity and our openness here," Heely said. "This is why we don't give up. This is why we have pride. This is why we keep going . . . it's for the people who still need the support and these voices."
'Punching you in the gut'
Ricardo Miranda, Alberta's Minister of Culture and Tourism, said the attack shows more work must be done towards acceptance of the LGBTQ community.
"Last night I was out in Calgary with the premier of Alberta and we were at a gay bar," he told reporters Sunday. "We were at a fundraiser that our party was throwing for us."
"It was a beautiful event. We had a lot of people come out allies, supporters, members of the community."
"I had never felt as accepted in a room as I did ... when I came out to the panel and talked about my life experience," he said.
To go from such an event to news of the Orlando shooting was devastating, Miranda said.
"It was just such a horrible experience ... (like) somebody punching you in the gut."
"It just goes to show we have so much more work to do," he said.
Shock, despair and anger
Kristopher Wells said he remembers the safety and acceptance he felt years ago, when he walked into a gay bar for the first time. Wells is now the faculty director of the University of Alberta's Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services.
The best thing we can do is to continue to live our lives proudly, openly and fiercely in the eyes of hate and discrimination and prejudice. We will not be silenced. We will not be invisible.- Kristopher Wells
On Sunday morning, after reading about the Orlando shooting, he felt an entirely different "mix of emotions just swirling around," he said.
"Just utter shock, a sickness in my stomach, despair and anger," Wells said, but added he also felt resilience, defiance, and determination.
"The best thing we can do is to continue to live our lives proudly, openly and fiercely in the eyes of hate and discrimination and prejudice. We will not be silenced. We will not be invisible."
Trust in safe space shattered
Members of Edmonton's LGBTQ community aren't immune to violence and aggression, said local advocate and transgender woman Marni Panas. She said the attack in Orlando shattered her trust in safe spaces.
"Even our safe places aren't safe," she said. "There are people there that would rather not see us exist at all and to remove us from existence and that's really scary. It's hard to be a person who you know that somebody hates that much.
"We're all affected by this today, and we're all hurt by this today," she added. "They don't know you, they don't know the human that exists within you, so then they don't see that as human and it's easy to take that life for some people. But we are humans and we suffer. We hurt."
The killings have been linked to Islamic terrorism. In response the Edmonton Council of Muslim Communities issued a statement Sunday night condemning the attacks.
"While the motives and possible links behind this horrendous attack will undoubtedly be investigated by the law enforcement agencies across the border, the scale and manner of this violence has shocked and shaken many of us in this part of Canada," it reads.