OXFORD – Citizens in Oxford gathered Wednesday, June 15, in Uptown Park to honor the victims of the Orlando shooting with a candle light vigil.
The event was a collaboration by Oxford area PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), the city of Oxford, and Miami University GLBTQ Services. The idea behind vigil was not only to show mourning for the tragedy, but to bring a sense of camaraderie to local LGBTQ+ community members.
Despite the rainy weather, over 200 people were still in attendance. At the start of the event, attendees crowded under the bandstand in Uptown Park to stay semi-dry. Several news stations set up their vans and cameras to cover the story. Shevonne Nelson, Coordinator for Miami University GLBTQ Services, and Sabrina Jewell, Treasurer for Oxford area PFLAG, began passing out candles, but it quickly became clear that the turnout was greater than they estimated. They had prepared Dixie cups to go over the candles to prevent wax drips, but they ran out and people were urged to give their cups to the children in attendance. They did so happily.
Most of the planning for the event was done by the Oxford-area PFLAG. The event was the result of a pre-planned meeting held the Monday after the attack, Sunday, June 12, when An American-born man who’d pledged allegiance to ISIS gunned down 49 people at a nightclub in Orlando, the deadliest mass shooting in the United States and the nation’s worst terror attack since 9/11, according to authorities.
Nelson was in attendance at the Oxford PFLAG meeting, as were a mother and her gay son. A vigil was suggested and that family reacted positively to the idea. The son had been feeling lost and unrepresented since the attack. He wanted to mourn and the vigil gave him and other LGBTQ+ community members a space to do so.
Jewell pointed out that many people were missing this space. She theorized, “I think people make the mistake of not knowing what to say so they don’t say anything and that comes across negatively.” She wanted a space so people could be comforted and other people could comfort. She noted, “As humans our hearts all should be aching.”
“People are people” and Jewel thought they would like to be given the opportunity to come together as a community. And, the turnout was phenomenal.
The event wasn’t so much about feeling safe as it was about feeling acknowledged and wanted. Nelson acknowledged that while many people feel safe in Oxford, Ohio – something many students lovingly refer to as the Oxford Bubble – some people do not possess these feelings of comfort. She said that for those people, “This is something that heightens those feelings of discomfort even though its’ probably 1,500 or 1,600 miles away.”
The victims in Orlando were attacked in what many considered a safe space, an area where they do not have to hide the reality of who they are or who they love, according to Nelson. The Orlando attack reminded many people they are not necessarily safe anywhere, but it is necessary that people still turn out for events celebrating the values they cherish. Nelson pointed out, “Sometimes we think the laws change the culture much more quickly than it does.” Social change requires vigilance and sometimes sudden changes aggravate social unrest.
Many people are feeling heightened emotions after the attack, but Nelson believes this could help improve relations with the LGBTQ+ community. She said, “I think anger and frustration is natural, I think it’s normal and I think it can be incredibly productive.”
After they received their candles, many people prematurely lit them. After being advised to, they blew them out again and waited for the appropriate time. Sponsors of the event, including Miami University GLBT Services, Oxford-area PFLAG, and the City of Oxford, spoke and then they invited a recent graduate of Miami University who spoke Spanish to read off the names of the victims.
Candles were lit and the sky cleared – allowing the 200-plus attendees to spread out along the perimeter of the park. Members of the community were invited to the microphone to make statements and then the public was invited to blow out their candles. The community was urged to mingle following the event.
Oxford Police Chief John Jones was the only in-uniform police officer in attendance at the vigil. When asked about security he noted he did not want to comment specifically, but he wanted it to be clear the Oxford City Police is always working behind the scenes to make sure every event is safe, especially those events following a national tragedy such as the attack in Orlando. He also addressed the “Oxford Bubble,” pointing out the bubble doesn’t really exist for police officers. He commented, “You know Oxford, it always feels like a safe community. People generally feel safe here and let their guard down in a lot of ways. We in the background do things because we know bad things can happen and we’re not immune to it.”
Nelson noted, she had personal worries about the increased security many Pride Celebrations (including Cincinnati’s) have been utilizing. “The challenge with increasing security is that it increases the policing of peoples bodies.” She worries that it might make many feel uncomfortable at celebrations, instead of welcome. She elaborated, “It becomes this situation where you’re increasing security to help people feel safe, but we have communities that haven’t felt historically safe by the people who are set to protect them.”
She believes you can acknowledge that, while still appreciating many things the police do for society. She stressed, she was not calling out any particular police force. “We did reach out to Oxford City Police, who have been so wonderful. Many of them are actually safe-zone trained and super supportive. We don’t need them to necessarily be highly visible, but we do need them.”
Nelson is not the only person to sing the Oxford Police’s praises. According to Jewell, Chief Jones actually invited Oxford-area PFLAG to watch a video on work with LGBTQ+ youth. She noted, they had the “most heartwarming discussions because they had a lot of questions and there was a lot of really positive discussion.” The videos covered how to treat domestic calls that involved LGBTQ+ youth.
About the tragedy in Orlando, Chief Jones noted, “It’s hard not to be affected by it as a person, so certainly it’s something we talk about here. And we have a pretty good relationship, I think, with our LGBT.”
All of the security for the vigil happened behind the scenes, making it an event that was both safe and inclusive to all – just what Nelson called for. Oxford’s police took everything the LGBTQ+ community said to heart in light of the tragedy, and they helped make the vigil a successful event. However, it was still an event nobody wanted to have to attend.
Chief Jones touched on this topic a little himself saying, “I saw some press conferences and I hope to God that I’m never in front of a microphone like that, after a situation like that.”