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After Orlando: New Haven LGBTQ Community Gathers for Safety, Support

LGBTQ Speak Out for Safety, Rally for Hope
Cassandra Basler / WSHU News
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About 200 LGBTQ people and allies gathered at the Amistad Memorial near the New Haven Green on Monday. Many held white balloons with a name of one of the 49 Orlando shooting victims written on each of them.  

Rally organizers led a chant about improving safety for the queer community:

“It is our duty to fight for freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

Caius Robertson spoke at the rally and is a member of Kickback, a safe space in New Haven where LGBTQ youth can hang out and just be themselves.

Robertson said he’d never feared walking down the street or gathering with his queer friends. But then, the shooter targeted a Latin dance night at a gay club in Orlando.

“It’s their space. And it was shot up. What’s to stop someone from going to people at Kickback?” Robertson said. “I fear for myself and I fear for my family, the people I care about.”

One thing that makes Robertson feel less afraid is the crowd of support at the rally and at the following vigil.

Across the street at the United Church on the Green, Dyllon Calendro lit a candle for his friend Eddie Sotomayor. Calendro said Sotomayor was one of the first shooting victims named by Orlando officials.

“He was a good friend of mine down in Florida. I don’t know specific details, but it was the first name that I read, and it just hit me really hard," Calendro said. "And after I read that, I texted every one of my friends down in Tampa and Orlando to make sure they were okay.”

Fortunately Calendro’s other friends in Florida are safe.

LGBTQ organizers say they’re working to improve safety for the queer community. They’re planning a roundtable with Mayor Tony Harp next week.

Rally organizer Kenneth Reveiz said LGBTQ people need to feel safe everywhere, not just in their city.

“There have been times when I have felt unsafe in my own head,” Reveiz said of mental health struggles.

Vigil planner and transgender community organizer, Elijah, said too many members of the LGBTQ community can feel alone while facing prejudice or violence.

“My primary concern is people becoming overwhelmed with what is happening and hurting themselves,” Elijah said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that LGBTQ youth are at “increased risk” for suicide.

“One transgender murder is something that will set off a chain of stress in the community. And you know something like this is just, just, a lot,” Elijah said.

Vigil visitors received contact information for mental health counseling and local groups where LGBTQ people can get support, like New Haven Pride Center.

“It’s just important that everybody have somewhere where they feel included,” Dyllon Calendro said.

Calendro hopes the LGBTQ community will create more places to be themselves and support each other.

“We’re human beings," he said. "We need connection.”

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