Campus & community, Campus news

Sad but resolute, Berkeley stands with Orlando

Hundreds gathered on Sproul Plaza Monday for a midday vigil in response to Sunday's massacre at a gay club.

clasped hands
Those gathered clasped hands as they sang Diana Ross's "Reach Out and Touch." Pictured here is A.J. Hill.

A large rainbow flag draped the entrance to Sproul Hall Monday, the backdrop to a noontime vigil held in response to Sunday’s shooting at a gay club in Orlando, Florida. The attack left 50 dead and another 53 wounded.

“Bring your heart,” Billy Curtis, director of the Gender Equity Resource Center, told the crowd of several hundred. “All emotions are welcome.”

They did. Some huddled in small groups, comforting each other, while others stood alone, reflective and attentive. One young man dropped to his knees, sobbing, as a student at the open mic addressed the crowd, choking back tears. Still others shouted in agreement when speakers gave voice to anger.

“I came to show my solidarity and express my outrage,” said Berkeley retiree Albert Lucero, who worked in Undergraduate Admissions for 30 years, most recently as assistant director. “Where does this lead us? To fear? To cower? To go back? I don’t think that’s an option.”

“Terror happens in grand acts, but also in small ones,” said Na’ilah Nasir, vice chancellor for equity and inclusion. We need to mourn, she told the crowd, and then to “turn a close lens to ourselves” to see what we each can do to make UC Berkeley more welcoming to all.

Psychology major Isagani Lagundino, on the plaza, recalled how he was bullied in sixth grade for acting gay and flamboyant. It was healing, he said, to create a “space to express ourselves and mourn” while  signaling to Muslims and people of color that “we’re not blaming them.”

Alicia Diana Huerta, program director for the campus’s Multicultural Community Center, noted that acts of violence such as the Orlando attack make her worry, at times, when “many of us are gathered” in one place. “I’m praying for folks not in the world anymore.”

Some responded to the moment with a call to action. Berkeley City Council member Kriss Worthington and others called for a ban on assault weapons.

And Leslie Ewing, executive director of the Pacific Center, an LGBT nonprofit on Telegraph Avenue, quoted the late San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, who wrote, shortly before his 1978 assassination: “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet shatter every closet door.”

Ewing urged those present to demand that the Democratic Party include a ban on assault weapons in its party platform.

Amanda Krieger — who came to the gathering with co-workers from Lawrence Berkeley Lab — spoke of “profound sadness. I’m so disappointed and at the same time angry, as this represents a failure of leadership.” Krieger said that resistance to enforcing the Supreme Court affirmation of marriage equality and trans rights under Title IX “sets a tone as to what’s acceptable,” and that in such a climate “people become more extreme.”

“Who are we? Who have we become,” more than 10 years after President George W. Bush “let that assault weapons ban expire?” asked Samantha Ramsey from the mic — adding that she was tired of watching Congress hold moments of silence, following acts of gun violence, while failing to pass gun-control legislation.

“Watch your moments of silence,” she advised. “Don’t let them be too long.”

Also: Read Haas Institute Director john a. powell’s “The America We Must Become: A Response to Orlando” on the Berkeley Blog