'Homophobic' Orlando shooting hits nerve in Montreal LGBT community

The Orlando, Fla., shooting at a gay nighclub has left Montreal's LGBT community in shock as the death toll rises to 50, making it the largest mass shooting on record in the United States.

Vigils to be held, rainbow flags to be flown across Quebec

A group of people walk to the emergency room of Orlando Regional Medical Center after the mass shooting at a gay nightclub Sunday night. (John Raoux/The Associated Press)

The Orlando, Fla., shooting at a gay nightclub has left Montreal's LGBT community in shock as the death toll rises to 50, making it the largest mass shooting on record in the United States.

"This is, of course, of great concern to us," said Maryse Bézaire, communications director with the Montreal support group Gai Écoute.

Bézaire said she was terrified at remarks the assailant's father, Mir Seddique, made about his son being disturbed at the sight of two men kissing. She said it strongly hints of a homophobic incident.

Maryse Bézaire with Gai Écoute said the Orlando shooting is proof homophobia is alive and well in modern society. According to her group's registry, 1,800 homophobic attacks have been reported in Montreal in the last 18 months alone. (CBC)
This week, several U.S. and Canadian cities are celebrating Pride Week, though Montreal celebrates its version in August.

Bézaire said the mass shooting is evidence that homophobia is still an issue in modern society, and can only be countered by educating people at an early age.

"We often think that homophobia has disappeared, but it has not. We have some in Montreal, in  Quebec, still," she said.

Less than two months ago, a same-sex couple reported they were insulted and beaten for publicly embracing at an east-end bar.

Bézaire said at the time close to 1,000 homophobic incidents were reported in the last 18 months, according to Gai Écoute's registry.

For Montrealer Dennis Rousseau, 60, the Orlando shooting is reminiscent of the precariousness of gay bars and nightclubs in Montreal before the Gay Village was established.

"I've lived a period where police officers would raid gay bars," he said. "It's not something new. We always have to be careful."

Several U.S. politicians have also indicated that the shooter, Omar Mateen, was inspired or possibly connected to ISIS, though police have not publicly confirmed any connection to the group.

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings described the shooting as a possible "domestic terrorism incident."

Signs of solidarity across Quebec

The mayors of Montreal and Rimouski, Denis Coderre and Éric Forest, both said they will fly the rainbow flag, recognized as a symbol of the LGBT community, outside their respective city halls. Montreal city hall also flew the United States flag.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard sent his condolences to the victims' families and "the wider LGBT community."

"This terrorist act against the LGBT community is another sign we must continue the fight against homophobia and transphobia in order to stop these manifestations of hatred and intolerance," Couillard said in a statement.

Quebec's flag flew at half mast atop the National Assembly building Sunday afternoon.

A vigil is also expected to be held in Quebec City Sunday at 7 p.m.

LGBT associations Pink Square and Pride Montreal will be holding a vigil for the Orlando victims next Thursday.

The rainbow flag, a symbol of the LGBT community, flies at Montreal's city hall. (Vieux-Montréal/Twitter)

With files from Raffy Boudjikanian