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Hundreds Gather Outside Capitol For Unity Against Terror, Hatred

Peter Marteka
Contact ReporterNature's Path & Way To Go
Members of the muslim and LGBTQ communities gathered on the steps of the Capitol Sunday to remember the Orland

HARTFORD — Mohsin Mirza held up a sign that read "Common sense guns laws." Next to him, his brother Faraz Mirza displayed a sign that read "Muslim united with LGBTQ community."

The teen brothers from Avon were among more than 200 people who braved a wicked and surprisingly cold June wind for a vigil on the steps of the Capitol Sunday evening. State leaders from both the Muslim and LGBT community spent an hour speaking, praying, holding hands and hugging in response to the shootings at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., that left 50 people dead and scores injured.

"We came because of two things," Mohsin Mirza said. "Killing of anyone no matter who they are is unacceptable. This is not what Islam is about. This is not who we are."

That theme ran through much of the vigil along with a call for "love and peace" to overcome violence and a renewed call for gun control.

In addition to Hartford, a prayer vigil was also held at the Baitul Aman House of Peace Mosque in Meriden. And about 25 people attended a candlelight vigil in Newtown in front of the National Shooting Sports Foundation headquarters, holding signs and singing "We Shall Overcome."

Saud Anwar, founder of the American Muslim Peace Initiative and former South Windsor mayor and current councilman, organized the Hartford vigil attended by state legislators along with U.S. Reps. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, and John Larson, D-1st District, and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy.

"This is time for all of us to come together," Anwar said. "We are all hurting. When we are hurting we need to come close to one another. This is a sad day we hoped would never occur. Our hearts are broken for a group of people who were gathered together and were doing nothing wrong, just loving each other. And they were brutally murdered because of hatred.

"Whoever builds a wall around us," Anwar added, "we will unite stronger and come out stronger if we love, respect and accept each other."

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin watched news for much of the day and said people are asking about the motive. Was it terrorism? Was it a pledge of allegiance to Islamic State? Was it homophobia?

"But all of it is the same," Bronin said. "It's hatred of love. It's hatred of togetherness. It is hatred of all the good things that make America America."

Esty told the gathering that she "wished we didn't have to be here." She said it was a beautiful summer day, in the midst of gay pride month — a time to be celebrating, not coming together to mourn the death of 50 people.

"We will not let hate win," she said. "We must not let hate and division win. This struggle we are in is for the children who are here ... our liberty and humanity lies in the balance.

"This is the real America," she added, looking out over the crowd. "It's not hatred. It's a beautiful rainbow. We will win because love will prevail."

Robin McHaelen, executive director of True Colors, a nonprofit agency based in Hartford that offers help to gay, bisexual and transgender teens, urged people to obey the "when you hear something, say something" mantra.

"The only way we can stop the transmission of violence from one generation to the next generation is to stop it every time you hear it. And if you hear it, say something," she said.

Rep. Jeff Currey of South Windsor went to a Flag Day celebration Sunday and fixated on the 50 "shining stars" on the flag – the significance not lost on the crowd which sighed after he said it.

"This was a place where our community can feel 100 percent authentic and their true self," he said. "This was a hate crime against our brothers and sisters and our gay community."

At one point during the vigil, Sen. Beth Bye of West Hartford inspired the crowd to chant "love is stronger than hate," which grew louder and louder each time it was said.

"We have to keep fighting," she said. "Enough is enough. We don't need military assault-style weapons in civilian hands."

Murphy said the Orlando shooting is part of an "epidemic of tragedy after tragedy."

"This is not a moment for politics," said Murphy, a strong advocate for gun control. "This is a moment for serious policy ... I know we can make a difference."

Larson noted it is "yet another time we all stand in solidarity."

"Our hearts pour out for the victims," he said. "When will the United State Congress act? The most patriotic thing you can do is vote. This cannot be postponed anymore. The outrage is overwhelming. We've lived through this too many times."

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