Remarks: UCI Orlando Strong Vigil

Vice Provost for Academic Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Noon June 15, 2016

UCI Flagpole

On behalf of Chancellor Gillman, I am honored and humbled to join you at this Orlando Strong vigil.

This vigil commemorates a traumatic human rights disaster directed at the LGBT community that took place early Sunday morning on 12 June 2016 in Orlando, Florida at the Pulse night club. In that club, there were many people who were someone’s friend and lover, partner and spouse, son and daughter, aunt and uncle. Many represented the diverse Latino community. They all reflected the rich diversity of the LGBT community. We know that the lives of 49 strong and loving individuals were brutally ended in a hail of bullets and many other victims bear the physical wounds of that early attack. Homophobia combined with the ready availability of guns animated and enabled this attack on individuals who should have every right to live and love as they see fit. But, these facts of the attack will not and should not diminish the humanity of those who perished. Their memory will live on by those who survive them, who knew them, who loved them; their families, network of friends, and the many people here and around the world who recognize something of each person who passed away in themselves. The occasion of their memory will, of course, always be a bitter sweet one. The burden must be an especially heavy one for those who survived the attack. They will likely physically heal, but still relive the living trauma of that attack.

How do victims and survivors live with this burden; how do we make sense of this attack; and what can we do? I believe that the most powerful force on this earth is love. We know all too well that to live in the past and present of the United States takes enormous courage to love, particularly when there are hurdles, barriers and even the prospect of death. This attack should be a reminder to us that even with recent milestones such as marriage equality now in many states and the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell”, there are counter-forces that sponsor the Religious Freedom legislation and as many laws that deny members of the LGBT community what we all take for granted the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. In many countries in the world, being gay is a death sentence. Orlando has taught us that it still is in the United States.

I remain convinced that love is a powerful force for creating meaning and social change. It spurs our capacity to understand and appreciate one another; forms the basis of our personal and political relationships; and forges the foundation of our communities. I do very much hope that this vigil at UCI, like others across the state, country and world, will strengthen our collective capacity to listen and learn from and to support our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community. By fortifying our communities we become a much stronger community, one that is resilient and capable of modeling inclusive excellence—even in the face of hate and ignorance. As Chancellor Gillman noted in his campus message on Monday, “the world needs people who orient themselves toward their fellow human being—compassionate people who are empowered to push the world a little more towards light. Let us commit ourselves to this vision and stand united against the darkness of animosity and violence. Let us be the light.” Thank you.