Berkshire community leaders saddened by hatred, moved to action
PITTSFIELD — The heart of the Berkshires is more than 1,200 miles away, but it's been struck by Sunday's massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., where at least 50 people were killed in the deadliest mass shooting in the nation's history.
While the motive, methods and mindset of the gunman are being investigated, county leaders have put forth a call to action, planning a vigil and rally of solidarity, starting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, in the city's Park Square.
"When things like this happen, people often ask, 'What can I do?' The first thing to do is step up and say 'enough,' " said Meghan Whilden, a community leader and organizer of the event.
Among the early supporters of this effort are state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, and members of Rainbow Seniors of Berkshire County, a support network for older residents who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning.
Farley-Bouvier, said she felt increasingly "discouraged and sad" as the death toll ticked upward on Sunday.
"I'm still really confused about what the real motivation is behind this incident," she said. "At the same time, we can't become complacent, and I think it's really important for people to have a place to come to share their grief together. It's also important for people to take a stand by saying we are marking this occasion and not letting this go by."
The state legislator said she also has a growing concern about the scope of gun violence that exists within the country.
"How have we gotten to the point that that kind of massacre can happen in this country? We have to stand up and say this has to stop," she said.
Throughout the day on Sunday, information about the gunman, Omar Mateen, an American citizen of Afghan descent, has led to speculation about his possible motivation for the shooting, which took place at a popular gay nightclub on "Latin Night."
Mateen, allegedly made a 911 call before the attack identifying himself and declaring allegiance to the terrorist group known as the Islamic State. The incident also coincides with national LGBTQ Pride Month, and some media reports suggested he had made hateful statements about gay people.
Ed Sedarbaum, who leads Rainbow Seniors, said Sunday's shooting "will probably change the LGBTQ community from celebrating progress to being cautious again about where we fit in this world and whether America rejects us."
Both he and Farley-Bouvier referenced the fact that officials in Los Angeles on Sunday arrested a man found with several rifles and explosive material who allegedly said he planned to harm the attendees of an L.A. Pride event scheduled in West Hollywood.
"We are not as loved as we would like to be, Sedarbaum said of the LGBTQ community, "and there is still evil."
He said that he hopes the shooting "does not make people afraid to come to gay events and pursue their own gay lives" because "the closet is one of the causes" of hatred.
But Sedarbaum also noted that the incident goes beyond sexual orientation.
"So many of the people who were killed were people of color," he said. "The interrelationships between all people are not limited; we're all interconnected. So when you start hating one group you're probably hating on other groups of people too."
Judy Nardacci, a local leader within the state's PFLAG organization of parents and loved ones that support people who identify with the LGBTQ community, expressed similar sentiments. Nardacci said that she feels that the Berkshires is open and welcoming to the LGBTQ community, but her daughter, who identifies as lesbian, said she doesn't always find the same sense of support.
"It's easy to forget how unsafe many people still feel, and that perception is often justified," Nardacci said. "I grieve for [my daughter] and everyone whose experiences of rejection and hate are only reinforced by what happened this weekend; and it reminds me how much remains to be done."
Tragic incidents like Sunday's shooting can lead to sadness and feelings of trauma, anger or other strong emotions. A number of resources are available:
• Massachusetts Emergency Services Program, toll-free at 877-382-1609
• Rainbow Seniors of Berkshire County, at rainbowseniors.org or 413-441-6006
• NAMI Berkshire County at www.namibc.org
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