Sunday marked the first day of Pride Week in San Angelo, beginning with a candlelight vigil at St. Paul Presbyterian Church. It also marked the day of the most deadly shooting in American history, where at least 50 people in the LGBT+ community were killed in the massacre that took place at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
What was supposed to be a more joyful celebration of the progress of the LGBT+ community, suddenly turned into a strong reminder of the work that still lies ahead.
“In light of what happened early Sunday morning, several people thought the Pride Week events would be canceled, but we could not back away from something that needs to be addressed,” executive director of Rape Crisis Center in San Angelo, Karla Payne said.
Sunday morning’s killings not only showed everyone that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done, it also reminded LGBT+ people that they need to stand together, support each other and create awareness to bring an end to the hatred towards them.
According to Payne, this is the first year San Angelo is celebrating Pride Week, which is meant to raise awareness about LGBT+ community and LGBT+ issues.
“We realized there were not enough resources in San Angelo for the LGBT+ community so we thought since there is such a link between sexual assault and vulnerability such as sexual orientation or gender identity we could take that on. In September we started offering support, assistance and hotlines for the LGBT+ community.”
“We also started the services to raise awareness in the community because we feel like the hate crime and violence that is directed toward LGBT+ people is from misinformation and misconceptions. If people in San Angelo would only get to know and talk to some of them we believe it will help to get rid of some of that prejudice and hatred towards them.”
“We want the LGBT community in San Angelo to feel like they can be who they are without ridicule, judgement or violence and we hope to work towards that,” Payne said.
In his call for service, the Rev. Tim Davenport-Herbst acknowledged the mass shooting in Orlando and reminded everyone of the issues the LGBT+ community has faced and is still facing to this day.
The following is Davenport-Herbst’s sermon:
“As we gather today to celebrate the identity that we each have, the beauty God has given us, and the pride we have at being able to walk in the light, it is significant that we begin tonight by acknowledging pain and loss.
Last night’s mass murder at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando is sharp in everyone’s mind. We rage at the hate, are dumbfounded at the violence and weep at the loss. Yet this candlelight vigil did not come into existence in the past 15 hours. It was already planned for weeks.
The reality is that this hate and loss is nothing new. This is the worst mass shooting in U.S. history by a lone gunman but the LGBT+ community has known violence in a thousand ways long before this day. Weather it’s being accused of being a danger to children in restrooms or on campouts, having jobs taken, or losing friends or family; weather it is the thousand small pieces of violence when someone is called “fag” or gay is used as a putdown, this is nothing new.
We gather in church, but church has more often than not been the source of prejudice and hurt. We hide behind the name of God to justify our fear for the other, to point eyes away from ourselves, to justify ourselves. But this is changing. It is a painful birth into a new world. But then the birth of something new and beautiful is always painful and even dangerous.
The LGBT+ community has come into the light more than ever before, in public view. There is marriage equality, more common acceptance and a changing society that is learning to accept- sometime with difficulty-the LGBT+ community. Tonight we gather at the end of day, nearing dusk, because there is still a darkness in this journey.
There are so many young people who question their identity and families and friends who don’t accept them. They feel hopeless and run from the pain through drugs, abuse and even suicide. There are family relationships that have been lost; parents who turned away; children who couldn’t understand; siblings who promised unconditional love but couldn’t find it when it mattered most. There are those who have been lost to AIDS; those who hated themselves. There were the voices of recrimination from others and the self. Whispers and shouts that you’re not good enough, not right. The heartache and heartbreak of loss. A grief that still stings.
Tonight we come to lay that at the cross, to give to God the pain of our lives, the loss to our community, because God is able to take the broken and make whole, the hopeless and bring hope.”
“What happened in Orlando shows that we need pride, we need that awareness, we need people to learn more and show support. If we just show love towards one another through our actions and our words then the world would be a better place,” Payne said.
Especially because it is Pride Week, the LGBT+ people feel very close to what happened Sunday morning, Payne said.
Essence Safari who sang at the ceremony said, “We are proud of who we are and I know that God loves us no matter what. We have to lift each other up with love in times like this.”
“A lot of people texted me this morning and asked me if the events would be cancelled because they thought we would get scared after what happened in Orlando. But, if we would have cancelled, ‘they’ would have won, and then it wouldn’t be a point of even having Pride. Keeping the Pride on is the best way for us as a community to combat the violence by coming together and supporting each other,” said Brooklyn Styles.
Jessica Versace continued with “in this day in age, this should never have happened. I do not understand how anyone can do such a thing and hurt so many innocent people. I got friends who live in Orlando and I was shocked by the news this morning. One of my friends was planning on going to to the nightclub, but she decided not to at the last minute.”
During the ceremony, visitors walked around, introduced themselves to people they did not already know and gave each other uplifting words before Christi Brennan held a unison lament and prayer of confession, followed by performances by Jasper and Kim Snell.
Finally, the Rev. Steve Davis began the “lighting of the candles” before visitors walked outside for a balloon release, as a symbol of all the struggle and hatred each person in the LGBT+ community has encountered and the pain they have endured for being who they are.
After the balloon release visitors were invited by Payne and other volunteers from the CVRCC to join them at Gil’s Restaurant for a fajita dinner and drag event.
The next pride event is a Pride Volunteer Appreciation Potluck from 5-7 p.m. Monday in the 2nd floor conference room at the Wells Fargo Bank building,
For more information about Pride Week events, call 325-655-2000.