A vigil Thursday evening, June 16, in the heart of the city’s thriving Gay Village in memory of the 49 people killed by a shooter four days earlier in Orlando, Fla., attracted support from several Montreal clergy and lay people.
About a dozen Anglican clergy and lay people took part in the vigil, which drew hundreds of people who jammed streets for several blocks around the Parc de l’Espoir, long a centre of mourning and hope for gays and members of other sexual minorities.
It would have been easy to miss some priests in the sidewalk-to-sidewalk throngs—especially since discussion among them in the few days before the vigil brought out different points of view on what sort of public witness would be appropriate.
Some thought a public witness as church people that “LGBT lives matter” was appropriate; some thought that a mass presence of priests in clerical garb might be seen as an attempt to claim a degree of solidarity that does not exist or that it could provoke anticlerical feelings that can be strong in Quebec and the LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender] community.
This reporter did not spot anyone wearing the religious garb of other traditions, apart from two women wearing Muslim headscarves.
Some of the speakers, who represented various sexual-minority groups in Montreal, made a point of denouncing not only homophobia and various other sexual phobias, but Islamophobia too. This brought some positive responses from the crowd.
While Anglicans had no formal role at the event, a participant at the vigil, the Rev. Jean-Jacques Goulet of the pastoral team at Christ Church Cathedral, said, “It is important for people, gay and straight, to say no to violence and support those who don’t have a choice.”
Using another forum, the Rev. Nicholas Pang, who serves the Laurentian Regional Ministry from a base in Lachute, 62 kms northwest of Montreal, could not make it to the vigil, but said in a Facebook posting:
“The world in small-town, rural Quebec feels very far removed from the tragedy of Orlando and other spaces of violence directed against LGBTQ+ friends and family this week.
“And yet, as I sat in a circle in the local senior’s residence today, and we talked about the sacred gift of small gestures of love in our daily lives, I knew that my inability to voice my horror of the ongoing dehumanisation of (and violence toward) wonderful, beloved, human beings was not good enough. For now, in the interest of living out small gestures with great love, the rectory in Lachute both humbly and proudly bears the pride flag.
“May this world find peace, and may we all be a part of it.”
Dean Paul Kennington of Christ Church Cathedral referred to violent movie thrillers in a post on the Cathedral website:
“Certainly I think there is something terribly wrong with a society which finds senseless and extreme violence on the screen nothing more than a highly entertaining afternoon out with the kids, and then claims to have any moral right whatsoever to judge two people of the same sex who love one another and kiss on the street. We need more love on our streets, I say, not less! We certainly do not need any more violence.”
The mood at the vigil was at times one of mourning, with candles, a reading out of the names of the victims, funereal bagpipe and trumpet solos and the singing of “Over the Rainbow,” often used as an anthem at gay community events.
But the tone was largely upbeat.
“We are hurting today but tomorrow we will be even stronger,” said Louis-Alain Robitaille of the Collectif Carré Rose, one of the groups that organized the vigil.
There were some less pleasant moments, however. Politicians who joined activists on the speakers’ platform—especially Mayor Denis Coderre of Montreal and Premier Philippe Couillard of Quebec—were booed by some in the crowd, but leaders of the gathering and participants on the street were quick to show their disapproval of this behaviour.
“We have (federal and provincial government) ministers and a premier here,” said Jasmin Roy, an entertainer and the emcee of the gathering. “A few years ago this would not have been possible.”
A brief incident that was scarcely noticed, if at all, by other vigil participants, later became the focus of media’s attention. Toward the end of the ceremonies Esteban Torres, 20, a transgender activist who had been one of the speakers and was still standing close to Couillard, lunged toward him shouting and threw a small object at him. The premier was hustled away unhurt and the young man was arrested.