PHOTOS: Community Members Gather To Support Orlando Shooting Victims

Pilar Townsend, far left, leads the vigil east on Foothill Boulevard during a solidarity march for the Orlando shooting victims June 19. Photo by Aaron Castrejon.

Empowered by a sense of love, compassion and strength, nearly 50 community members from across the sexual spectrum gathered in Azusa Sunday and marched in remembrance for the Orlando nightclub shooting victims.

Organized by leaders of the Facebook group Azusa Glitter, members of the vigil gathered at the corner of Foothill Boulevard and Azusa Avenue to speak about the tragic killing of 49 LGBTQ  patrons of the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

A march was led east on Foothill Boulevard to Pasadena Avenue and back west on Foothill, eventually ending outside Azusa City Hall where a candlelight vigil was held.

“It’s wonderful to see so many faces and we can be who we are and be united together. No matter how the press may spin it, it was an attack on our community,” said Sister Fatty-Ma, a Glendora business owner and organizer of the social media group Azusa Glitter, which aims to promote diversity.

An Azusa resident and gay dad to two daughters, Ma said having a safe place to be oneself was something robbed from the victims of the Orlando shooting.

“The only place that we can feel safe is a gay nightclub or establishment, where you are able to show love to your partner in a safe sanctuary that was taken away from them,” Ma said. “We have a right to show love and express love to one another.”

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During the vigil, the names of all 49 shooting victims were read.

Emotion poured into every name that was read, as participants fought back tears honoring the fallen.

Hellen Jaramillo, an Azusa resident, felt fear after learning a man, 20-year-old James Howell, was arrested in Santa Monica near the L.A. Pride Parade June 12 and found with three assault rifles, ammunition and a five-gallon bucket of potential bomb making chemicals.

Jaramillo, however, decided to attend the parade.

“We were surrounded by so many amazing people … to be that brave. This is a reminder that we all have to come together,” Jaramillo said.

Jaramillo and and her wife Sara have lived in Azusa for 13 years while raising twin daughters and said the community has embraced them.

“We’ve always felt very supported in Azusa and I’m glad our fellow residents came together to remember these victims,” Jaramillo said.

Azusa resident Travis Townsend took part in the vigil and march along with his teen daughter Pilar. Townsend said more love and inclusiveness is something direly needed in the world for LGBTQ members.

“We’ve actually stopped going to a church locally, because of their stance against the LGBTQ community. We just feel the world needs to be more inclusive,” Townsend said. “Us showing love to each other … that’s me being the true representation of who Christ said he was.”

Ma and his partner, both members of the Los Angeles Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, have been Azusa residents for three years and were both elated at how accepting the community has been.

“We have been fully professed as nuns. Either things could go really good or really bad, but we were going to practice what we preach, manifest at home, walk down to our car and not run and hold our heads up high,” Ma said. “People would get used to this and stop and talk to us. We were able to make some allies at City Hall.”

Ma and his partner are frequently dressed in their nun regalia as they travel from event to event and are very visible in the Azusa community and have received little to no negativity from residents.

Ma desires to continue building bridges with the community to break barriers and unify people.

“Now is our time as a community to start building bridges–not only with ourselves, but within our community … with our allies, our neighbors who are straight and letting them know that we’re people too,” Ma said.