By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
BENTON HARBOR — A black ribbon was strung atop the pride flag that hung outside the OutCenter’s dwelling.
Members and supporters of the LGBT community gathered below the flag along Water Street to mourn the deaths of at least 50 people who were shot and killed Sunday morning at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
Among the gatherers was Rev. Eric Stricklin, who was there to not only speak about LGBT rights, but also gun control. A gunman carried an assault rifle and pistol into the club at about 2 a.m. where he began killing attendees at the nightclub. Considered to be the deadliest mass shooting in the United States, another 53 people were wounded.
“The worship of guns must be confronted with action,” he said, surrounded by about two dozen supporters. “Today is a fine place to start. People deserve to dance, to be happy, to feel safe, to be themselves. Hate can’t be allowed. Violence can’t be allowed. Enough is enough.”
Stricklin was in casual wear, with a rainbow-colored stole that hung down and around his chest. As the reverend of the Coloma United Church of Christ, Stricklin said he was asked to come and speak at the impromptu vigil.
During the gathering, Stricklin gave a brief prayer for those who lost their lives before the crowd broke out in song.
“I think people who live as themselves are vulnerable,” Stricklin said, who serves as sort of religious leader for the OutCenter. “There are going to be people who are angry with you. But the main thing to remember is you’re loved and there are several communities of allies and fellow LGBT people that have your back.”
Sandy and Larry Feldman were at the vigil singing in a circle. They said they were grateful for the OutCenter’s presence on days like Sunday.
Sandy Feldman discovered the incident while listening to NPR, and said she kept waiting for it to be replayed to make sure what she heard was correct.
“I just thought, ‘this can’t be happening,’” she said. “The reaction was horror and then anger. We’re supposed to be in this together.”
It had been 16 hours since the Orlando shooting, but Todd Dockerty was adamant in making sure people came together. June is known as Pride Month. This June was also supposed to signify one year since same-sex marriage was deemed constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Dockerty said anyone who doesn’t feel safe should reach out to friends and local LGBT centers.
It was hard for Dockerty as the news kept pouring in. Early reports showed it was 20 dead. Then the number increased to 50. Then he heard of an Indiana man arrested for trying to bring weapons to a gay pride parade in Los Angeles.
“This didn’t happen in a small town, this was in a very big urban place,” said Dockerty, the board chairman of the OutCenter. “I felt very safe because of the family and friends that I have. It’s like I have my own bubble. (The shooting) burst that bubble a little.”