Chattanooga resident Olivia Olubodun has been scared her entire life, and she participated in a local vigil Tuesday with hopes that can change.
“Even before I knew I was queer, I’ve always been black and I’ve lived in majority white areas where it’s scary and racism is still quite rampant and unchecked,” she said at a Tuesday night LGBTQ vigil outside City Hall.
The event honored the lives lost in our community to hate, discrimination and suicide, and honor the victims of violence at the Orlando nightclub shooting on the second anniversary of that attack, which left 49 people dead.
Olubodun said she knows what it’s like to experience fear based on prejudice and that people who were in the Orlando’s Pulse nightclub likely felt safe there on many different levels. And then, they realized they weren’t as safe as they thought, she said.
“It sort of brought us together and made us realize we need each other to get through this and to make changes,” she said. “And that’s what I hope comes from tonight. That we can come together, and we can bring changes…so we can be out and we can be proud and we can be safe to be who we are.”
About 100 people—including Mayor Andy Berke, Police Chief David Roddy, City Council member Carol Berz and the city’s Director of Multicultural Affairs James McKissic—held candles, shared stories and remembered loved ones they’ve lost.
And those in attendance and at the microphone spoke of change.
Vigil organizer Ginger Moss, who is with the Chattanooga Queer Community Forum, said she and others are working with the city to get equal protections for members of the LGBTQ community.
They are working with the city to make sure something like the Orlando shooting doesn’t happen here and to get other protections.
“It’s legal to discriminate against us,” she said. “The only protections we have right now are for city employees, but there is nothing for citizens. We can be denied housing or medical care. You can be fired from your job.”
Throughout the summer the organization will be working with city leaders to change that, she said.
And city officials spoke about welcoming change.
Berke said that a few weeks ago he formed a council against hate.
“We need an ongoing, public discussion that—no matter what community you belong to, no matter where you live—that we draw out the hate, we point to it and say, ‘We do not accept it as a city, and we demand something different, something better for every one of us.”
And Roddy told the crowd how he and his officers have studied the Orlando shooting in efforts to prevent one here and to keep everyone in the community safe.
He quoted President John F. Kennedy who said, “Don’t pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger.”
And he told the crowd they represented strength.
“If you chose easier lives, you’d be somewhere else,” he said. “You would not be seeking the strength to move things forward. You would not be locking arms with one another to push past the barriers, the perceptions and the biases you face.”
Roddy told the crowd he applauds them and humbled himself before them.
“This is more than resilience,” he said. “Resilience is the ability to protect yourself from things that come at you. Strength is getting in the middle of it and pushing into things you may not have to face but you choose to. On behalf of your police department, we stand with you and beside you in that demonstration of strength.”
Updated at 10:51 a.m. June 17 to correct the spelling of Olubodun’s last name.