Portland’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is turning to love to overcome fear and hatred.

That was the overwhelming message shared Monday at two community gatherings in Maine’s largest city one day after a gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53 at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, early Sunday.

“For many of us, clubs have always been a safe haven where we can go to hug, dance and kiss,” said Gia Drew, program director for EqualityMaine. “But the news yesterday out of Orlando felt like a home invasion, like someone broke into our house and killed members of our family.”

Drew made the comments Monday evening from the steps of Portland City Hall where a large crowd estimated at more than 400 people gathered to honor the lives of those lost in the massacre and to try to find strength and love among the living.

Nearly everyone in the crowd, which filled the plaza in front of City Hall, held candles.

Carolyn Lambert, pastor at the Woodfords Church in Portland, told the crowd that one of the biggest issues facing the country after the nightclub massacre was overcoming fear.


“That’s why we are here tonight, to make sure the darkness doesn’t overcome the light,” Lambert said.

Matt Forgues and Morgan Mitchell traveled to Portland from Boothbay to offer free hugs and flowers to anyone who felt they needed a little love. Forgues and Mitchell stood on a median curb near the gathering holding a sign that read, “Free Hugs and Flowers for LGBT and Allies. One Heart, One Beat, One Pulse.”

Forgues said he has worked in gay nightclubs around the world and always felt safe. When he woke up Sunday morning, Forgues said he felt as though going to a nightclub, even in Maine, might be risky. But, after thinking it over, he decided against changing his lifestyle.

“I feel the best way to combat this is to go out. I’m not going to stop being who I am,” Forgues said.

Michelle Patrick serves as co-chair of the Pride Portland, an annual 10-day celebration of the city’s LGBT community that began Friday and will culminate Saturday with a parade through downtown Portland.

Patrick said organizers will not be deterred from moving forward with a weeklong series of events. She encouraged the crowd to participate.


“Our hearts may be broken, but are spirits are strong,” Patrick said.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck declined to say if the department was changing its security plans for Pride events in the wake of the shooting.

A Portland police cruiser was parked on Congress Street adjacent to Monday night’s vigil at City Hall. The cruiser remained there for the duration of the 45-minute event.

“The city of Portland continues to be a safe place to live, work and raise a family, but the harsh reality of life in 2016 is that we are forced to maintain a high level of vigilance during any and all public events, including the Pride Portland events,” Sauschuck said in a written statement.

The grand marshal of the city’s parade on Saturday told The New York Times that security issues crossed her mind after the shooting.

“On the one hand, how can you not help but feel nervous?” said Mary L. Bonauto, a Portland native and civil rights lawyer who successfully argued last year’s Supreme Court landmark case that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. But she also worried about an anti-Islam backlash. “I was thinking, ‘Should I wear a T-shirt that says, ‘Don’t judge the many by the few’ – something to show some solidarity?” she said.


Portland’s vigil was sponsored by EqualityMaine and Pride Portland. Other vigils were held around the state Monday, including in Bangor, Auburn, Bar Harbor, Ellsworth, Machias and Hallowell.

“This attack was designed and intended to instill fear. That’s what these attacks are intended to do,” said Matt Moonen, executive director of EqualityMaine, an advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. “It’s really important that people here in Maine and the nation not give in to that.”

Moonen said the vigils were proof that Mainers won’t be bowed by hate.

“I’m really amazed by how many vigils are popping up around the state,” Moonen said. “That’s really powerful to see.”

Earlier Monday, about 50 people picnicked at Fort Allen Park as part of Pride Portland. Liz Pearson and her wife were among those who attended the gathering.

“It’s been really rough,” Pearson said about the roller-coaster of emotions she and friends have felt since Sunday’s massacre. “But we say love is love. It brings us closer. We’ve hugged more. Family members are showing more affection. We’re being kinder to each other.


“Thank God we have each other,” Pearson said.

The picnic, sponsored by Maine TransNet, turned into a de facto remembrance of those killed and wounded in the Florida attack.

Next to the gazebo, where musicians played, a rainbow flag was flying at half-staff. On one blanket, people wrote hopeful messages to Florida survivors on a large white poster, including “Stay Strong” and “You have my heart.”

The attack was a wake-up call for several people, who said it reminded them of how vulnerable they feel despite increasing civil rights victories, such as gay marriage.

“There’s a lot of fear now. Before this (shooting) and enhanced by this,” said Alex Roan, 35, who transitioned more than a dozen years ago and founded TransNet. The trans community, he says, is “fighting for survival.”

“Safety is an illusion, and if this doesn’t prove it, I don’t know what does,” said Matthew Francis, who said he’s had two panic attacks in public bathrooms in recent months amid the rancorous national debate over bathrooms and gender. “Marriage is great, but I want a place to live. A place to work. A place to go to school.”


But the fight is exhausting, and the shooting left him numb.

“I can’t believe we’re combating this kind of hate,” he said of the shooting. “I cried and I cried and I cried. It’s heartbreaking. I think I’m still in denial.”

Being closer to the community during Pride was a gift, said Nora Harrison, 18. But the shooting left her wary.

“In places like this, at Pride, it’s when I feel safest,” said Harrison, wearing a “Love Conquers All” sweatshirt. “But when places like this are targeted, I feel less safe.”

Advocates urged people to remain strong in the face of violence.

“Don’t let fear stop your pride,” WJBQ morning radio host Lori Voornas, a co-host of Portland’s Pride parade, wrote on her blog. “There are terrorists in this world, there are gay bashers in this world … but our pride is bigger. Our community is bigger. The love is stronger than hate.”

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