John Walker

A somber, eight-note melody rang out from the bell tower as more than a hundred people gathered in a circle on the ground below. They had come to St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery the evening of June 29 to attend a vigil for the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting as well as for the victims of gun violence in New York City and beyond.

The vigil preceded an evening of performances by local dancers, musicians, and poets‚ÄĒone of many events in recent weeks in which artists from across the five boroughs have put forth creative work as a means of helping themselves and their fellow New Yorkers mourn the 49 people killed in Orlando, the majority of whom were LGBTQ Latinxs and people of color.


John Walker

Two weeks earlier on June 14‚ÄĒand only two days after the shooting‚ÄĒdozens of poets, writers, and musicians‚ÄĒincluding Joey De Jesus, Shireen Alia Ahmed, Orlando Tirado, and XeŇąa Stanislavovna Semjonov√°‚ÄĒgathered in Central Park's Sheep Meadow as part of Poets 4 Orlando Imagine Central Park. And on June 27, Williamsburg club Output and electronic music news site¬†Thump teamed up to host an Orlando fundraising event to close out New York Pride, featuring sets from DJ Infinite, DJ Flawless, and DJ Simon‚ÄĒthree of Pulse's resident DJs who now found themselves out of work.

Through poetry, dance, and music, these performers are offering New Yorkers the chance to process their grief collectively, a welcome change from the isolation that many queer and trans people experienced as they sat glued to their social media feeds in the aftermath of the shooting. But before everyone gathered outside St. Mark's Church last Thursday could seek catharsis for whatever vicarious trauma they were experiencing, they paid their respects to the true victims of the tragedy.


Twitter (@OutputClubBK), Danspace Project/Ballez by Theo Coté, Twitter (@BHQFU)

The vigil at St. Mark's Church, cosponsored by Danspace Project, the Poetry Project, and New York Theatre Ballet, began with a reading of the names of the dead.

"Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala…"

"Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado…"

"Shane Evan Tomlinson…"

Half a dozen people scattered throughout the circle read the names of those killed at the nightclub. Once the speakers reached the 49th name, they began reciting the names of 100 New Yorkers under the age of 22 whose lives were lost to gun violence in 2015.


"Dejah 'Daisy' Joyner…"

"Christian Vaquero…"

"Jihad Jackson…"

One-hundred orange T-shirts had been propped up in the East Yard of St. Mark's Church, encircling the dozens of mourners as every name was read aloud. On the front of each of those orange T-shirts, someone had written the first name, last name, and age of the victim.


As the 149th name was called, the Rev. Dr. Allison Moore led us into the church's sanctuary. Forty bells tolled as we walked. "Forty in the Bible means 'enough' time…for something to come to fruition," Rev. Dr. Moore wrote in the vigil program, "in this case both more than enough people sacrificed to gun violence and enough concerned people to keep working for a safer nation."

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Once everyone had taken a seat inside St. Mark's Church, 11 dancers from the Ballez, a Brooklyn-based dance company that re-centers ballet around explicitly LGBTQ themes, approached the center of the sanctuary. Clad in matching white tees and blue denim jeans, the dancers‚ÄĒincluding writer and performer Max Steele and burlesque entertainer Vic Sin‚ÄĒperformed "The Dying Swan," an excerpt from the Ballez's Tchaikovsky-by-way-of-the Lesbian Avengers production of Sleeping Beauty and the Beast.


They stood en pointe in V formation, all flapping their arms gracefully at their sides. But at regular intervals they would fall to the ground in unison as if struck by something, their left legs tucked behind their bodies in some kind of morbid, literal interpretation of the voguing world's signature "death drop." The Ballez would tend to their fallen by helping them stand and fly once more, but the endless cycle proved untenable as exhaustion mounted with every fall.

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Managing Director of the 92nd Street Y‚Äôs Unterberg Poetry Center Ricardo Maldonado, performing arts educator Jeannine Otis, baritone Anthony Turner, and many other artists took the stage after the Ballez's performance had ended. In one of her poems, Fullbright Fellowship recipient Julia Guez asked if we'll ever be able to say that we've "made it across the vast plain of life?" She posited that "we may as well sing" until that day comes‚ÄĒa sentiment echoed by the final song performed that night, Holly Near's "We Are a Gentle Angry People":

We are a gentle, angry people, and we are singing, singing for our lives
We are a gentle, angry people, and we are singing, singing for our lives

We are a justice-seeking people, and we are dancing, dancing for our lives
We are a justice-seeking people, and we are dancing, dancing for our lives…


Everyone there was invited to sing along. Many did.

Bad at filling out bios seeks same.