Before dozens of LGBT people were shot and killed inside an Orlando nightclub, they celebrated.
The LGBT community celebrated love. It celebrated pride. It celebrated each individual. Two years ago, couples young and old rushed to the Bloomington courthouse when “same-sex” marriage became just “marriage” in the state of Indiana.
Then again, the next summer, when same-sex marriage was legalized across the country.
Those same feelings — of conviction, pride and love — brought the community together again Tuesday night.
Blocks away from where they celebrated, more than a thousand LGBT members came together — this time to mourn. Gathered in front of City Hall, they passed light from one candle to the next, remembering the 49 victims of the biggest mass shooting in American history.
“Orlando strong, Orlando love,” they chanted.
“Bloomington strong, Bloomington love. Love and beauty, wins all.”
Rainbow flags, umbrellas, headbands and ribbons adorned the crowd. Two little kids, wearing matching rainbow-colored suspenders with angel wings, played together in a red wagon. Ella, 4, and Gavin, 5, were too young to understand what happened. Their dad, Steven Naldi, told them they were going to a parade, with warning that they might see some people crying.
Steven and his husband, Ray, were married almost 12 years ago when it first became legal in Massachusetts. As soon as he heard the news of the shooting Sunday morning, Steven was worried for a friend in Orlando.
Even in a community as LGBT-friendly as Bloomington, incidents like these make Steven wary of his, and his family’s, safety.
“It’s a daily fear,” he said.
Policies can change, but that doesn’t mean our culture does, Sarah Perfetti said.
Perfetti, executive director of Bloomington PRIDE, said she wants to change the way we look at queer people. Teenagers shouldn’t be afraid to speak up in class because their voice doesn’t match who they feel they are.Perfetti herself didn’t come out until her twenties because she said she was afraid .
Bloomington PRIDE encourages people to explore their identities and love whoever they love, Perfetti said.
“It’s not OK that our coworkers are uncomfortable because you came to work yesterday as James, wearing a tie, and today you came to work as Jessica in red heels,” she said.
On a normal day, Perfetti will turn on public radio when she wakes up. She’ll read the news.But on this Sunday morning she was in a rush to get to Bloomington PRIDE’s annual retreat.
When she arrived, Perfetti heard about what happened at Pulse nightclub early that morning. And as the meeting dragged on, members of the board periodically checked their phones for updates.
Ten dead, 20 dead, 50 dead.
For them, this wasn’t just another one of the hundreds of shootings that have devastated cities across the U.S. this year — it was their own.
And it could’ve happened anywhere. It could've been the Back Door, Bloomington’s only gay bar. It could’ve been a friend or coworker or her gay brother, Perfetti thought.
Tuesday night, Kyle Hayes, a Bloomington PRIDE board member, felt both anger and joy as he looked out upon Bloomington’s LGBT community.
“I marvel at just how wonderfully and painfully beautiful we can be together,” he said.
A single yellow dahlia lay on top of a wilted red rose.
Doug Bauder still doesn’t known who left them on the wall outside his office — just another silent statement of solidarity within his community.
As director of IU’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Student Support Services Office, Bauder serves as a mentor, educator, counselor and friend to students who need a place to feel safe and welcome. He said these shootings — 141 have occurred in 2016 alone — have become all too common.
Bauder spoke at the vigil Tuesday. He said he fell asleep Sunday night with tears streaming down his face, only to wake a few hours later with a song running through his head.
It was a hymn called “The Lord of the Dance,” written as if God were singing to his people.
I danced in the morning when the world was begun,
And I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun.
One of the last things the club-goers in Pulse were doing before their lives ended was dancing.
They whipped and they stripped,
And they hung me high,
And they left me there on a cross to die.
“If there’s any message I’d like to leave with you tonight, it’s that the dance goes on,” Bauder said.
As the vigil came to a close, Quarryland Men’s Chorus took the stage to sing one last song. Everyone joined in. Candles were quickly burning, white, hot wax splattering drip by drip on the concrete.
Loved ones embraced one another.
Steven Naldi held Gavin in his arms and rocked him back and forth.
“We are a justice-seeking people,” they all sang. “And we are singing, singing for our lives.”