Queens mourns victims of Orlando shooting at Jackson Heights’ Diversity Plaza

Photos: Victor Vaiana/QNS

Mourners came together in Jackson Heights’ Diversity Plaza following the deadliest mass shooting in American history, which occurred early Sunday in a gay club in Orlando, Florida. Councilman Daniel Dromm, one of the first openly gay members of the City Council and founder of the Queens Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee, organized the event.

Government officials and community groups paid respects to the LGBT community, steadfastly emphasizing the importance of unity in this trying time. Muslim community leaders emphasized that while the shooter allegedly identified as Muslim, his violence, extremism and homophobia had no place in their faith.

The attacks occurred during a time of remembrance for both communities. Practicing Muslims are fasting in observance of Ramadan, while members of the gay community are celebrating Pride month. Morin Chowdury of the South Asian Democratic Alliance strongly reminded the gathering that “LGBT rights are human rights” and told the story of several young Bangladeshi immigrants relocated to the United States fleeing homophobia in their home country. Justice Thomas Raffaele of the Queens County Supreme Court pointed out that “people from the whole world” lived together in Jackson Heights, which served as an example for other Americans on how to coexist.

As the event began, the city’s Public Advocate Letitia James led the gathering in a moment of silence. Brendan Fay, founder of the group St. Pat’s for All, choked back tears as he felt “a wave of grief” when reminded of the struggles and violence perpetrated against the LGBT community: “I know what it is like to be denounced from pulpits,” he said. He pointed out the fact that the victims of the shooting simply “went out to dance” and were attacked for being themselves.

Mickey Heller, president of Brooklyn Pride, had just organized the annual Pride parade, where Councilman Dromm had served as the grand marshal. The tragedy reminded Heller of the importance of Pride month as homophobia unfortunately persists in society. He pointed out that the need for blood donors in Orlando was high, as LGBT individuals are still banned from giving blood due to a discriminatory ban instituted at the height of the AIDS crisis.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams delivered strong words against individuals who might use the shooting to exploit divisions while stoking fear of Muslims. Adams said that New Yorkers “have an obligation to defend the hyphen” that brings diverse communities together as Americans and explicitly called out the divisive rhetoric of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. He called on the citizens gathered to “separate the acts of violence from Islam” so that “voices of tolerance will cascade.”

Nick Gurata read a statement from the mayor, telling the crowd to “stand in solidarity.” On Monday night, the mayor will appear at a vigil outside the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, the birthplace of the gay rights movement.

There was an undercurrent of frustration with Congress’ failure to push forward gun control legislation beneath the event’s somber tone; state Senator José Peralta exasperatedly asked, “How many times do we have to hold vigils?”