World's gay communities rally after Orlando attack

13th June 2016, Comments 0 comments

Crowds flocked to vigils around the world on Monday in shock at the shooting of dozens of Florida club-goers in the deadliest ever attack targeting gay people.

Thousands lined the streets in the central London district of Soho, long a hub for the gay community in Britain, bursting into chants of "we're here, we're queer, we will not live in fear" under rainbow flags.

A policeman at the scene estimated the crowd at between 5,000 and 7,000 strong, as other rallies took place in cities from Berlin to Bangkok.

"It's about solidarity, it's a way for our voice to be to be heard -- to try to tell everybody that love wins," said Julius Reuben, 35, wearing towering heels and a long black dress.

"It made me feel more insecure," he added. "We shouldn't have to protect ourselves so much, we should be accepted for who we are."

The crowd in London released 49 brightly coloured balloons into the sky for each one of the victims of Sunday's massacre at the gay nightclub in Orlando, the worst mass shooting in modern US history.

Standing outside the Admiral Duncan, a pub where three people died when a neo-Nazi planted a nail bomb in a homophobic attack in 1999, Jennifer Hersey, a 36-year-old originally from Texas, wiped away a tear as she looked out onto the crowd.

"It's amazing, because people could be scared. It's better that people gather and meet together. Every time that something horrible happens, people come out," she told AFP.

The leader of Britain's opposition Labour party Jeremy Corbyn attended the vigil as did London mayor Sadiq Khan, the first Muslim to hold the post.

"It was an attack on our freedoms and our values," Khan said in a television interview before the rally. "What's really important is that we stand shoulder to shoulder with the victims and their families in Orlando."

- 'Act of hate' -

In Australia, the landmark Sydney Harbour Bridge was lit with the rainbow colours of the gay community flag as hundreds gathered to condemn terror and homophobia.

"This could have happened anywhere," Paul Savage told AFP at a candlelit vigil for the victims on the busy strip that hosts Sydney's annual Mardi Gras pride march.

"He could easily have walked into a bar in Sydney," he said, though he added that Australia's tighter gun laws were "much more helpful" in preventing the mass shootings that claim hundreds of lives each year in the United States.

In Berlin, more than 100 people gathered outside the US embassy to lay flowers, light candles and wave rainbow flags.

Helmut Metzner, a leading member of the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany, condemned what he called an attack on the global gay "family".

"We must stand united and defend our lifestyle and not back down. That is what the terrorists want, and that's a favour we won't do them," he told AFP.

US President Barack Obama denounced the attack at the Pulse nightclub by slain shooter Omar Mateen, which also wounded 53, as "an act of terror and an act of hate".

In an outpouring of solidarity similar to that seen after the Paris and Brussels attacks, social media were awash with messages of support for the families of the victims.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced the Eiffel Tower would be lit up in rainbow colours in solidarity, as the city still reels from November jihadist attacks in which 130 people were killed.

"Paris is with Orlando," Anne Hidalgo wrote on Twitter.

The Islamic State group, which was behind the Paris and Brussels attacks, also claimed responsibility for the Florida bloodshed.

In one of several vigils across the United States, hundreds gathered in New York's Greenwich Village on Sunday to leave flowers beside a sign reading "Stop Hate", and the One World Trade Center's spire was lit up in rainbow colours.

Leaders around the world sent condolences, with Pope Francis expressing shock at Mateen's "homicidal folly and senseless hatred".

German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the need for tolerance amid fears the attack could stoke anti-migrant hostility in Europe, where populist parties are on the rise as the continent struggles with its worst migration crisis since World War II.

"Although such deadly attacks cause profound sadness in us, we are resolved to continue with our open and tolerant lifestyle," Merkel said.

© 2016 AFP

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