Sacramento stands with Orlando at downtown rally

More than 1,000 people, spanning racial, sexual orientation and religious backgrounds, rallied under rainbow and American flags outside Faces Nightclub in Sacramento on Sunday afternoon in solidarity with the victims of the Saturday night massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. The rally, #SacStandsWithOrlando, was one of numerous gatherings around the nation condemning the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

Numerous Muslims, including half a dozen imams, joined Jewish and Christian leaders to decry the violence that claimed 50 lives and wounded dozens at the hands of an extremist with an assault rifle.

News reports said the gunman had called 911 and claimed to be linked to the Islamic State.

Steve Hansen, Sacramento’s first openly gay City Council member, praised the Muslim leaders who walked through Faces to get to the podium on 20th Street. “It’s probably their first time in a gay bar or any bar,” Hansen said before the event. “It’s about our community being united.”

Hansen climbed on the stage and told the crowd: “For Sacramento, this is personal. We stand shoulder to shoulder, Latino, gay, straight, woman, doesn’t matter, Muslim, Christian, Jew … the only answer is to be courageous, to continue to speak out, to be outside, to be in public and let everyone know that it (intimidation) does not work.”

Hansen recalled his experiences at gay bars and clubs in Sacramento, adding he “can’t imagine the horror of being trapped in a bathroom while someone is shooting at your friends.” He said Sacramento police have vowed to make the city safe for everyone.

Hansen was joined on stage by about a dozen state and local officials, including Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg, who recalled how the community rallied following the firebombing of three synagogues and a women’s center in Sacramento and the murder of a gay couple in Redding in 1999.

“Today we are all from Orlando, Florida,” Steinberg said. “In our sorrow we must never retreat, never stop celebrating our diversity, never cease our struggle until prejudice itself is dead. In Sacramento, and throughout our country, let us build bridges and not walls.”

Steinberg also took aim at the automatic weapon used by the gunman. “Let us eliminate guns that can fire hundreds of rounds in seconds,” he said. In a separate interview Steinberg elaborated. “There is no rational reason on the face of the Earth to own a multifire assault weapon, not for hunting, not for protection,” he said. “It’s about damn time this country has a rational discussion about guns.”

He concluded by leading the crowd in a chant of “pride over prejudice!” and asked everyone in Sacramento to replace their “Steinberg for Mayor” lawn signs with signs reading “Pride Over Prejudice.”

The crowd, jammed together on the street closed to traffic, picked up the chant while enduring the afternoon heat.

Basim Elkarra, director of the Sacramento chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, criticized those who were framing the shooting as an Islamic terrorist act on the LGBT community. “The reality is that this was a terrorist act against all of us,” he said. “Much to the dismay of those who spread fear in the country, Muslims are human, Muslims are American and Muslims feel pain.”

Elkarra said the LGBT community has long been an ally of the Muslim community, as both groups have experienced hate within the nation’s culture and political system. “I was disgusted this morning to see politicians and media outlets push, and continue to push, for homophobic rhetoric and legislation, revel in the notion that the shooter was an Islamic terrorist, rather than use this opportunity to mourn and unite our nation,” he said.

Carlos Marquez, board president of the Sacramento LGBT Center, said that recent legal and political victories in the LGBT movement have caused people to forget some of the intolerance and hate that the gay community often faces.

His message resonated with many in the crowd, including Cavi Cavness, who felt she had a duty to attend.

“It hurts so bad to see something like that happen, when we’ve come so far and have started to feel comfortable,” Cavness said. “I’ve fought this my whole life. I grew up as a young lesbian that couldn’t be a lesbian, and it’s come to a place now where people are free and doing what they want to do and letting everyone know. And then something like this is just devastating.”

Fifty members of the crowd lay down on the burning asphalt in honor of the 50 dead in Orlando. They took turns drawing chalk outlines around each other to symbolize the victims. “I was thinking that the asphalt was burning my skin, it was so hot,” Sarah Logan said. “But I realized that this momentary burning of my skin is nothing compared to everything that they’re going through right now in Orlando.”

Stephen Magagnini: 916-321-1072, @SteveMagagnini

Related stories from Sacramento Bee