On Sunday, hours after at least 50 people were killed in a shooting in a gay club in Orlando — the LGBT community and its allies gathered to pay tribute at The Stonewall Inn, the historic site of the 1969 riots that sparked the gay rights movement.
By midday, a small crowd had formed in front of the bar. A few people placed flowers on the sidewalk, while others sat across the street to talk or take photos. Inside, every seat in the dimly-lit bar was filled.
Cop cars and police officers guarded the bar and the surrounding historically gay neighborhood.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a heightened police presence at “key LGBT institutions” over the next few days.
John B., 70, said he has been coming to Stonewall since he moved to New York 35 years ago. He stopped visiting in recent years, but this morning, when he awoke to the news from Florida, he headed to the bar.
“I go for a walk to the pier every Sunday, but I made a pit stop to come here,” he said. “To check in on the community, you know?”
The Stonewall Inn has been the symbolic heart of the American gay community for decades, ever since protesters led by transgender women of color clashed with cops who raided the bar.
Dwayne Howard, 54, said he stood in front of Stonewall because “it’s the place to come.”
“I came to make my presence known, to be here — that’s all you can do,” the Brooklyn native and Stonewall regular said. Howard said he came to the bar after the Supreme Court ruling last summer that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. “And now I’m here, after this tragedy.”
Kayla McGovern, 19, is a student at the nearby Fashion Institute of Technology. She has never been inside Stonewall, but stood outside the bar on Sunday after the massacre.
She said staying away “really wasn’t an option. My first thought was: I have to go to Stonewall now.”
A vigil is planned in front of Stonewall for tomorrow evening.
Elsewhere in the city across from Washington Square Park about 150 people met around the steps of the Judson Memorial Church for a vigil Sunday night.
For an hour, an interfaith assembly spoke of acceptance and forgiveness as religious leaders and members of the Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths, and others, met in memory of the victims.
Flynn Tan, a 21-year-old from Florida, described the shock of waking up to the news of a mass shooting.
“I couldn’t believe it was something that actually happened,” she said. “It was the first thing that I woke up to. It was terrifying and disgusting and just thinking about how many friends that I know in the Orlando area was terrifying, too.”
She viewed her attendance of the vigil as a moral obligation, saying “I figured since I was in this area, it wouldn’t be right for me not to come.”
Cornelius Graves, 25, noted the importance of the presence of individuals representing a range of faiths.
“I think the most poignant thing for me is it shows people coming together,” Graves said. “It means something that people of multiple faiths come together.”
The Mayor’s Clergy Advisory Council held the vigil, while New York City Hall was lit up in rainbow colors for LGBT pride at sunset.