vigil was held at the University of Delaware last Tuesday for victims of the recent mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando. The June 12 attack, which killed 49 and injured dozens, marks the deadliest shooting to date in the United States.
The event was organized by the UD chapter of Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (oSTEM@UD). oSTEM is a national organization that dedicates itself to bridging leadership between LGBT students in STEM fields and the resources available to LGBTQ students.
Matthew Scott, a UD student and the president of oSTEM@UD, says the tragedy is unfathomable.
“I remember talking to friends—an older gay couple—on Saturday night, and they were telling me about all the friends they’ve lost to AIDS. It used to be called gay cancer. I remember thinking, ‘We’ve come so far; we’re doing so much better,'” Scott said. “Then I wake up the next morning and 50 people are dead at a gay bar. So many emotions came over me. I was so sad, but I also had a lot of fear, too.”
Scott says he felt compelled to organize an event where members of the UD community could come together, acknowledge their shared suffering, and support each other.
Over 200 members of the Delaware community came out to the vigil. Among the faculty members in attendance was Karla Bell, an assistant professor of physical therapy and the advisor for oSTEM@UD, who spoke about inclusion and community.
“I don’t know if I can express words,” Bell said. “It was such a personal event that happened for me on a personal level because I identify with the community. There was this recognition that even though this happened in Orlando, it rocked us everywhere. This was an off session. Students aren’t in school. This was a huge outpouring of support and love, and a lot of people needed this forum.”
Bell also read letters from Dennis Assanis, the new president of the university, and Gov. Jack Markell. The letters expressed support for the LGBTQ community and sympathy for the tragedy that occurred.
As volunteers read aloud the names of the 49 victims, a woman beat a drum 49 times to symbolize their heartbeats.
“The sheer amount of time that it took for her to get all 49 done was very powerful,” former student Kevin Kelso said of the drumming. “It really brought to light how many lives were snuffed out, and it made the ’49’ much more than just a statistic.”
Kelso and another former student, Anna Gill, sang two verses of “Amazing Grace” in harmony during the vigil.
“It was incredibly moving,” Kelso said of the song. “A lot of people said that they were having a hard time emotionally coming to terms with what had happened, and hearing the music really helped them let everything out.”
UD offers several services for the LGBTQ community, including Haven—the largest LGBTQ organization on campus—and the Center for Counseling and Student Development.
“There is still a problem with homophobia and prejudice,” Scott said when asked about community takeaway. “This isn’t just one event. This is a start of a conversation. This vigil was just a start. It needs to continue on into the semester and go in detail. An hour-and-a-half vigil is not enough. This is a continued effort.”
For more information about resources for the LGBTQ community at the university and in Delaware, visit www.sites.udel.edu/lgbtq-support/.