As LGBT community mourns Orlando shooting victims, local entities show support

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) - As Florida residents continue to cope with Sunday’s mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub, several organizations and businesses, both within and outside of the state’s LGBT community, are showing their support to those affected by the tragedy.

Helium balloons spelling out “Orlando” hung from a balcony above the Palace Bar on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach, Monday night. “We’re here to show support for our community,” said a man.

Standing next to him, another man told 7News that Sunday morning’s shooting at Pulse nightclub hit very close to home. “I lost a really good friend of mine yesterday,” he said. “It’s really been a heartache and, you know, yesterday was really tough for me.”

Authorities said a gunman stormed into Pulse and opened fire, killing 49 people, at around 2 a.m. The suspect, identified as Fort Pierce resident Omar Mateen, was later shot and killed during a confrontation with police.

“You can’t just target a group of people because they don’t think the same way that you do,” said Joanna James, a performer at the Palace.

The Palace was far from the only local business that came forward to show support for the victims of the shooting and their families. In Wilton Manors, Fast Printz owner Victor Flores donated his time to print out posters that read, “Love always wins.”

Flores said he wants to send out a clear message of unity and perseverance. “We’ll be donating posters, banners, stickers from now until things change,” he said.

7News cameras captured a few dozen people holding up “Love Always Wins” signs and rainbow flags at an intersection in Fort Lauderdale.

A mixer in Fort Lauderdale originally planned by the advocacy group Equality Florida as a casual happy hour took on a more somber tone. “My hope is that, amidst all those emotions of grief, that we will be able to pull together,” said Kristofer Fegenbush, a spokesperson for The Pride Center at Equality Park, “to be able to speak with voices of love and strength and compassion and understanding and education.”

Equality Park in Wilton Manors was the site of one of several vigils that took place across South Florida, Sunday, in the wake of what is considered the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. From Key West and South Beach to several locations in Broward County, well-wishers have responded to the massacre with candlelight vigils, memorial walks and action.

South Florida’s Muslim community condemned the massacre in a show of solidarity. “We strongly denounce any act of killing, regardless of motives and faith of the killer,” said Naveed Anjum of the Islamic School of Miami.

The school, located in Southwest Miami-Dade, held a vigil on Monday.

The survivors of the deadly rampage were also on the minds of those who showed up at swiftly organized blood drives held in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. “Love will win in the end,” said one donor.

Shows of support from large institutions like Florida International University continue to pour in. At FIU, students at a vigil lit candles to form a heart-shaped display.

“We express our condolences and recommit to lives of justice, lives of stability and lives of respect toward our fellow human beings,” said FIU President Mark Rosenberg.

Back in Miami Beach, mourners in front of the Palace released 49 lanterns representing each of the Pulse club-goers who died. “I think the reason we’re all out here tonight in big numbers is we’re going to say loud and clear that we’re not going to be held down,” said James. “We’re not going to be suppressed. We’re not going to be kept in our rooms because of a tragedy.”

Proceeds from the Palace’s performances on Monday, including tips given to the performers, will go toward aiding survivors of the shooting as they continue to recover.

Community leaders are encouraging people to help in any way they can, whether it’s donating blood, resources or money to those impacted by the shooting. “My desire is for us to continue to reach out to each other and find strength in one another,” said Fegenbush, “and be able to progress in the fight for human rights.”

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