URI community gathers to support victims of Orlando shootings, each other in aftermath of massacre

Love, heartache, fear and anger among the emotions expressed during vigil

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Photo by Joe Giblin

KINGSTON, R.I. – June 13, 2016 – Ashley Kozlowski, a senior at the University of Rhode Island, stood inside the circle of more than 200 people gathered on the Kingston campus quadrangle and declared that she is a proud, queer woman.

Then, during today’s wind-whipped, bright sunny afternoon, she went on to describe her deep sadness following the weekend massacre at an Orlando nightclub that resulted in the death of 50 people, including the gunman.

“The whole thing makes me so sad, so angry,” said Kozlowski, during a vigil organized by Annie Russell, director of URI’s Gender and Sexuality Center. “I am so angry that someone wanted to wipe out people like me and people I love. We need less hatred and less anger.

“And no civilian needs an assault weapon,” Kozlowski continued. “It’s absurd. We need to learn how to love each other.”

With rainbow flags unfurled around the circle of people and many participants wearing rainbow ribbons, it was a colorful, but somber event.

Russell said in her remarks that it’s easy to say “we should not be angry. But we should be angry. Forty-nine people were massacred. It could have been me, or it could have been any one of us who go to gay bars and clubs to be with family because we have been kicked out of our churches. This is where we go to find family, worship. These are sacred places, but in the history of the United States, these places have been attacked over and over again.”

In thanking the faculty, staff, students and individuals from the local community for their support, she also said the queer community should not be restricted to such venues.

“Our spaces should be everywhere,” Russell said. “That’s the fight.”

She also took issue with people who say that the issue should not be politicized, and she criticized the United States and its leaders for allowing such easy access to guns, especially assault weapons. “You don’t kill a duck with an AR-15.”

URI President David M. Dooley said that as some participate in the coarse jockeying to score political points, “We forget to take time to acknowledge that someone who loved was lost and someone who loved that person is now scarred. We must remind ourselves how precious these people were, how they loved and how much they were loved and how very much they will be missed.”

He told the group that the country has been at war for more than two decades, but that it is also engaged in a different kind of war, “one against hatred, oppression, fear and against demonizing others. We need to build mutual understanding on what we value and the need to be loved, respected and honored.”

Amy Olson, chair of the URI Chaplains Association and executive director of Hillel, the Jewish Student Center, spoke on behalf of the chaplains.

“We offer you all a symbolic holding of hands with each other, the people in Orlando and people around the world,” Olson said.

With puffy clouds dappling the blue sky, Olson’s voice rang out, singing a prayer called “Mi Shebeirach,” which means “the one who heals.” It was composed by Debbie Friedman and Drorah Setel. The lyrics are:

Mi shebeirach avoteinu
M’kor hab’racha l’imoteinu
May the source of strength,
Who blessed the ones before us,
Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing,
and let us say, Amen.
Mi shebeirach imoteinu
M’kor habrachah l’avoteinu
Bless those in need of healing with r’fuah sh’leimah,
The renewal of body, the renewal of spirit,
And let us say, Amen

Steve Dahl, who lives in the local area, held a sign with the message, “Ban Assault Weapons.”
He also made a brief statement. “I have many friends who are Jewish and many friends who are Muslim, and this atrocity in no way reflects upon the Muslim community.”

Early in the program, Russell thanked the Rev. W. David Dobbins, vicar
of St. Augustine’s Parish, and the Episcopal Center at URI, and the Venerable Janice L. Grinnell, archdeacon of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island, chaplain to URI and deacon at St Augustine’s, for their support of the LGBTQ community at URI, and asked them to make remarks.

“Our hearts ache knowing that beautiful people created by God have been killed, injured, traumatized and bereaved,” Dobbins said. “We have all been traumatized by these events. And I believe that in honoring the dead and wounded, and helping ourselves to heal, we need to commit ourselves to constructing a society of diversity, in which we are all are supported in expressing their true selves. Our prayers are with all those who have died, and all of us who mourn.”

Grinnell opened her remarks by telling the gathering that she is an ordained woman of faith who is a lesbian.
During her remarks, she asked the group to:

“Pray for the mom who keeps calling but hasn’t heard back yet. Pray for the dad who said something he wishes he could take back. Pray for the person who lost the love of their life. Pray for the kids who are discovering that the world is broken. Pray for the injured that their bodies would heal along with their hearts. Pray for the hearts of our LGBT friends to not be anxious or scared.”

At the end of the program, Russell read the names of the victims of the Orlando massacre, a single toll of a small bell ringing out after reach name was read.