SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns expressed horror at the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando on Sunday and vowed to stand resolute against hate and violence.
Many members of the state LGBT community awoke to the news after attending the Human Rights Campaign's annual gala in downtown Salt Lake City.
"Words can't express the kind of pain we are experiencing right now," said Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah. "It's terrifying to know that a venue that is filled with joy and love and dancing and people getting to know each other, maybe looking to find a future boyfriend or girlfriend, to have that space violated by this horrific act of violence is unspeakable."
But, he said, the gay community won't let the shooting that killed 50 and injured 53 stop progress toward greater acceptance, inclusion and love in Utah and the United States.
"We cannot allow one madman to send us in fear back into the closets. We will not go back. And we will also as a community not turn against another community. We will not turn against Muslims," Williams said.
Equality Utah plans to hold a vigil to honor the shooting victims at 7 p.m. Monday on the steps of the Salt Lake City-County Building. At least 1,000 people have signed up on Facebook to attend.
The Skaggs Catholic Center, 300 E. 11800 South, Draper, will hold a prayer vigil at 9 p.m. Monday.
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski issued a statement, calling the shooting an unspeakable act of violence, not only against one class of people or one city, but against society as a whole.
"As an openly gay woman, I can’t help but view this tragedy as an attack on all people who identify as LGBTQ, a hate crime perpetrated to silence our community during the month of pride, a time when we openly celebrate who we are and the joy of self acceptance," she said.
People turned out in record numbers last weekend for the annual Utah Pride Festival.
The mayor said she can't help but think the nation is failing to address a societal ill that allows a person with nothing more than a motive and a gun to senselessly kill so many people.
"We must learn from this tragedy and resolve to take action to prevent this from happening again," Biskupski said.
Jam, a gay nightclub in Salt Lake City, is re-evaluating its security policies and plans to talk to the police about any preventative measures it can take. A week ago Saturday night during the Utah Pride Festival, about 1,500 people were at the club and there were about 300 there this past Saturday, said manager Megan Risbon.
"Here at Jam we liked to have fun, we like to have good parties and we want to continue that. We want everyone to feel safe and we want everyone to feel welcome here," she said. "Hopefully, this won't scare people away from going out and having fun on a weekend."
The Salt Lake City Council has two gay members and recently named a street after pioneering gay leader Harvey Milk.
"Violence aimed at a specific community makes everyone a target of hatred," said City Council Chairman James Rogers.
"We cannot and will not let this tragic incident of senseless aggression drive us to cower in a corner when it comes to living our lives peacefully and free of persecution," he said.
Gov. Gary Herbert ordered flags to be lowered to half staff to honor the Orlando victims.
"Our hearts are broken for those who have lost loved ones, family and friends in this despicable and cowardly attack," he said in a statement condemning the violence.
Utahns must unite with those from around the world "in love and prayer for our brothers and sisters who are the victims of this terrible tragedy," Herbert said
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also issued a statement mourning for those who died and were injured.
"We pray for the families and loved ones of the victims of this senseless shooting and pray they will be comforted and cared for as they seek to heal. Our prayers and support are also with community leaders and law enforcement officials as they continue to investigate this shocking crime," the church said.
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said America can't let the shooting become the new normal.
"This attack serves as a reminder that Islamic terrorism is a threat to every community in America. We know Islamic terrorists target Christians, the LGBT community, women and a variety of other groups. They are nothing but evil, and they must be stopped," he said.
As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Stewart said he would do everything he can to ensure the nation fights Islamic terrorism domestically and internationally.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said his office has offered to help colleagues in Florida if needed.
"Regardless of whether this massacre of innocent lives was motivated by radical terrorist ideology, hatred toward the LGBTQ community or any other reason, it was a monstrous act that we denounce in every respect," he said.
Reyes said Utah can't let the horror to fuel reactive and displaced blame toward peaceful and law-abiding Muslim members the community. Rather, he said, people must rally together, pray and decry violence and hatred toward human beings of any race, religion or sexual orientation.
Utah House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said the state and country need to provide the resources to make progress on getting the answers to questions about how to reduce the number of mass killings.
"Not one more life should be lost due to any lack of understanding about how to deal with mass killings in America," he said.
King said there might be a need for greater mental health resources and better regulation of guns or other lethal weapons. More effective law enforcement tools and new technology also could provide a significant benefit, he said.
Policymakers need to get accurate and unbiased information, and then provide the necessary resources to decrease the number of mass killings in the same way that deadly car crashes have been reduced, King said.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Weinholtz said the news devastated him and his wife, Donna.
"While the investigation is underway, it is more important to ask, 'What can I do to help?' than to rush to conclusions," he said.
Utahns should ask themselves what they can do to help the survivors and calm fears and foster understanding in their communities, Weinholtz said.
Republican candidate for governor Jonathan Johnson said he was sickened by the tragedy, and he praised the police officers who risked their lives and the club patrons who courageously helped each other.
Contributing: Geoff Liesik, Nicole Vowell
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