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Buffalo’s LGBT community sends a message of solidarity to Orlando

In the aftermath of the June 12 shooting in a gay nightclub in Orlando that left 49 people dead, members of Buffalo’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community were stunned to silence.

The next day, as if by instinct, the community organized itself and filed into Niagara Square for a vigil. It was an impressive sight, doleful and hopeful at once. Hundreds huddled against the chill of a tragedy, each wounded and scared but certain of one thing: That the act of coming together would heal them.

But for one community leader, that show of solidarity wasn’t enough. That’s why Michael Rizzo, editor of Buffalo’s LGBTQ-focused Loop Magazine, launched “#OnePulseBuffalo.” The newest issue of Loop, cobbled together in 10 frenzied days, contains more than 300 portraits of LGBT Western New Yorkers by Kevin Kuhn and more than 20 impassioned pieces of writing.

This weekend, Rizzo and a contingent of local LGBT leaders from Buffalo are in Orlando to distribute 5,000 copies of the magazine to Central Florida residents. It is a gesture of love in the face of horror, a tribute that arose almost spontaneously out of a community’s grief.

Each of Kuhn’s portraits is soul-stirring.

The photographs are straightforward and not stylized. They feature Western New Yorkers of many ages, races, socioeconomic backgrounds, sexualities and gender identities revealing a multitude of messages with their eyes: We’re sorry. We’re scared. We’re with you. We’ll make it.

Madeline Davis, the LGBT activist and author who built the region’s most extensive archive on early gay organizations and who spoke about gay marriage rights at the 1972 Democratic National Convention, claps her hand over her heart and wears an expression paused between pain and sympathy. Seth Girod, who co-founded the queer-friendly arts space Dreamland, raises his fist in defiance, a pose more about power than fear. Confusion dominates some portraits and humor creeps into others. Some couples hold hands, flash peace signs or form heart signs, as if to put an exclamation point on the theme of love.

Taken together, as a collage spread across 36 pages or collected on Loop’s Facebook page, the portraits are overwhelming. They represent a sliver of Buffalo’s LGBT community, but the cumulative effect is one of solidarity. You cannot flip through the magazine without understanding the progress achieved by this historically maligned group. And you cannot misunderstand the message: We will not be assailed or have our rights clawed back – not by politicians, not by gunmen, not by anyone.

Rizzo realizes the step he took was unusual for an LGBT publication, but he felt it was necessary to redirect the conversation back to what he sees as the central issue of the shooting.

“The national conversation immediately jumped to gun control and radical terrorist ideology, and I think that those are important conversations to have, certainly. But we seem to have skipped over the homophobic hate crime that happened,” he said. “The perpetrator didn’t go to Pulse Nightclub to kill as many people as he could; he went there to kill as many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people as he could.”

In Buffalo as elsewhere in the wake of the shooting, LGBT people sought refuge in their safe spaces. Here, that means bars like Fugazi, Q, the Underground, Funky Monkey or Club Marcella. It means community organizations like the Pride Center. And it means churches like Pilgrim-St. Luke’s and El Nuevo Camino United Church of Christ, where pastor and former Orlando resident Justo González helped to console his congregation after the tragedy.

González’s contribution to the special edition of Loop, written entirely in Spanish, is one of the most moving in the issue:

“Todos somos hijos e hijas de Dios,” he wrote to the people of Orlando: “We are all sons and daughters of God.”

“How could it be that so many people were shot in a club simply for being who they are?” he continued. “They wanted to dance and drink a bit like you and like me. In other words, they are us and we are them. Reflect on this reality.”

This is the power of Rizzo’s 10-day passion project, which will stand as a testament to the strength of Buffalo’s LGBT community and a reminder of the work that remains.

“We know how scary this is to think that one of our safe spaces, one of the places that we go to to feel comfortable being ourselves was violated. And that’s scary, and I think it reminds us that there’s really only this illusion of inclusion,” Rizzo said. “We do need a community, and we need our family.”