By Corey Poole
The first such gathering in the City’s 300 plus years of history was held on the downtown riverbank June 14. The Pulse: Solidarity Gathering and Candlelight Vigil was organized by Aaron Russell Rogers and Missy Lori LeBlanc to bring the Natchitoches community together.
“It is so important in times like these that people come together to show support as a community,” said Rogers. “To lift up, rather than tear down. To show that one action fueled by hate will be combated by millions filled with love.”
For decades gay bars have been sanctuaries for the LGBTQ community, but on June 12, 49 victims and one gunman at Pulse were killed in the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. Testimonials and a chorus of voices filled the humid summer air along Cane River as the attendees celebrated life and diversity, while honoring the lives lost in the tragic event in Orlando, Fla.
Gary Cathey and his husband Justin Normand drove in from Texas, despite having to be at work the next morning.
“I was born a mile from here in 1962,” said Normand. “I grew up a half mile from here in the house I now live in with my husband. We refuse to give in to hate because then they’ve won. We’re here because of the bravery of men and women like you who came out today to stand up and say we will not take this crap.”
Natchitoches resident Doyle Bailey and his wife Barbara were among the crowd. Doyle stepped up to the microphone to say that when we think of polarities, the opposite of love is hate. However, it’s true opposite is fear. Taking an excerpt from the book of Genesis he said, “Every time we kill another human being, we kill our brother. It was our brothers and sisters that died in that massacre.”
Faculty and students from Northwestern State University and the Louisiana School for the Math, Science and the Arts (LSMSA) were also in attendance, alongside representatives from several churches in the area of various denominations.
“There aren’t any words to make this go away,” said Frances Conine, dean of students at NSU. “Being together is the thing that helps us move through this. We can’t give in to fear. There is hope and there is light and these are values we have at Northwestern.”
A former NSU student and server at the Pioneer Pub, Roxanne LeBlanc lives 6 minutes away from the Pulse nightclub. “Yes, I am safe, but no I am not ok,” she posted on Facebook. “There is nothing ok about any of this. I am so shaken up right now. I’ve never seen so many cop cars and caution tape. I have a lot of friends in the LGBT community. I was so scared of finding out who was there. Even if it’s not people I know. It very easily could have been. It could have been me! It’s terrifying. These events do not define Orlando. The City is so strong and I’m still very proud to be a part of it. All I can do is pray for those victims and their families.”
Everyone has struggled to understand the motives of the gunman, or why in a world with so many beautiful things, one horrific tragedy can shatter it. The last speaker at the vigil Tuesday evening, an LSMSA student, spoke from the heart when she said that while she’s still trying to process what happened, the crowd should look around and count to 49.
Tragedies happen. The lesson to be taken away from the gathering is that pushing people out leads to hate and separation leads to fear, so it’s important to lean on one another for support because everyone is welcome and everyone is loved.