One by one, 159 carnations were gently placed on the hard stone of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial on USF’s campus.
Slowly, the bright and colorful flowers lined the dark granite in remembrance of the 49 people slain and 53 injured — some left in critical condition — inside the popular Orlando gay nightclub, Pulse, early Sunday morning.
The procession, led by USF System President Judy Genshaft, included faculty and staff, students and other Tampa residents who came together in solidarity to stand in remembrance of the victims and support their families.
“As members of the USF community, we must stand together in happy times of celebration, but also the sad times of tragedy because we are each other’s support group,” Daniel Cruz-Ramirez de Arellano, an openly gay instructor in the USF department of chemistry said to a crowd of nearly 200 at Monday’s vigil.
USF’s ceremony was one of several held throughout the Bay area.
Two candlelight vigils were held in Ybor City that amassed crowds of over 3,000 people including speakers who had lost friends and loved ones. Hundreds more gathered at St. Petersburg City Hall to pay their respects.
Tampa area blood banks — as well as those across the country — have been filled to capacity, but people are still filing in to try and help any way they can.
Following the tragic event, the Tampa Bay Rays will also dedicate its Pride Night to the Orlando victims during this Friday’s game against the San Francisco Giants.
Each of the currently unsold tickets will sell for $5 with all proceeds going toward the GoFundMe account set up to help the families affected. The fund has reached $3.9 million by the time of publication, shattering the crowdfunding site’s record of $2 million. Its goal is to raise $5 million.
Despite the nearly 90-mile gap between Tampa and the scene of this horrific event, the support received by the LBGTQ community has been immense during these tragic times, giving hope to its members.
“For me it’s really heartwarming to know that you have a lot of support,” Synth Rosario, president of USF P.R.I.D.E Alliance told The Oracle on Tuesday. “Even though there’s one really bad person, there’s tons of support even around the world.
“People in Tampa are supportive. Even if we didn’t know it before, now we do.”
But sadly, despite the overwhelming support from the Bay area, some members of the LBGTQ community continue to cope with the fear of being themselves, which Rosario said has escalated since the shooting.
“I’m scared,” Rosario said. “Leaving the house, I’m always looking over my shoulder. Even coming into work today, I was terrified to leave the house. I just know a good amount of my friends are shaken up and scared right now.
“But our lives can’t stop because of one bad person.”
It’s a feeling of safety some take for granted, but for others, like USF P.R.I.D.E Vice President Montana Swiger, insecurity is a part of daily life.
“I think, like all of us in the LBGTQ community, you’re always kind of watching what you’re doing,” Swiger said. “You double check where you are; ‘Is this a safe place? Can I be myself 100 percent in this area?’ (The Pulse shootings) have just kind of nailed that in a bit more.”
And this feeling stretches far beyond the LBGTQ community, which was hit hardest. Students from all walks of life are beginning to look over their shoulder in light of the continued prevalence of these mass shootings. But it has begun to spark a new mindset when it has come to the LBGTQ community.
“I am definitely devastated,” said Winter Harbison, a USF senior majoring in education. “It makes you want to feel like you have to fear going anywhere. But you can’t live in fear, because this is something worth fighting for. It makes you want to hide, but it’s your home. I feel the need to be more vigilant and to do more to help everyone around me.”
It took a tragedy, but society came together, held candles, walked in marches and supported one cause. Although the lives of those sons and daughters, musicians, teachers and people of all different backgrounds were lost, the support generated by this senseless killing continues to grow and make an impact for a community in desperate need.
“It was a very sad experience, but also a very nice experience because you can just feel the love and support circulating,” Swiger said. “It was really beautiful and touching.”