The victims of the gay bar massacre in Orlando were honored during a somber vigil at the Georgia Capitol organized by an LGBT lawmaker and attended by another who has sponsored anti-gay legislation.
The memorial concert on Monday, organized by state Rep. Karla Drenner, included performances by the Atlanta Women's Chorus and the Atlanta Gay Men's Chorus, along with comments from Drenner, state Rep. Park Cannon and U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson. The vigil took place under the same Gold Dome that was the scene of a fierce legislative battle as conservative religious lawmakers pushed to pass several pieces of anti-gay legislation earlier this year.
Drenner said she was "heartbroken" when she first learned of the Pulse nightclub massacre on June 12.
"I thought about being in my 20s and going to the only gay bar in Charleston, West Virginia," Drenner told the crowd in the Capitol Rotunda. "All of us are heartbroken and angry, but we are determined. We are determined to fight against any senseless act of violence and hate."
"As we rise above the hate and violence that has been targeting not just the LGBT community, but other communities throughout our nation and state and the world. I would say to all of you as a Christian, love triumphs hate. It doesn't matter who you love, love triumphs hate," Drenner added.
Cannon, who identifies as queer, said the vigil on Monday and others held in Atlanta since the tragedy help memorialize the victims.
"We are holding closely in our hearts the families and friends and those who are affected by what took place in Pulse nightclub," Cannon said.
Johnson said the diversity of the victims was particularly striking to him.
"It could have been any one of us in the Pulse nightclub that night enjoying ourselves," Johnson said. "There were straight people, there were gay people there. There were blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians – every color and hue. None of us know whether or not the next moment will be our last moment. So why not live your life. Why don’t you live your life the way that you really feel inside.”
'It was evil and it was wrong'
The crowd at the memorial included state Rep. Sam Teasley, a Marietta Republican who has introduced anti-gay "religious freedom" legislation, co-sponsored other anti-LGBT bills and voted for House Bill 757, the controversial measure that allowed people to discriminate against LGBT people and others. The bill plunged the state into a national backlash before Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed it earlier this year.
Teasley (file photo, second image) said the Orlando massacre saddened him and left him angry.
"I am deeply saddened and angered by the evil perpetrated in Orlando last week and wanted to come here and stand with my colleagues and the community here and say that whenever evil is perpetrated on innocent civilians, it ought to be spoken out against," Teasley told Project Q Atlanta.
"These are not enemy combatants. These are not people on the battlefield that are taking shots. These are people who are going about living their lives, enjoying life, and evil was carried out against them. It was evil and it was wrong. These people were created in the image of God," he added.
Teasley also denounced the argument from some critics that anti-gay rhetoric surrounding the "religious freedom" debate contributes to violence against LGBT people.
"I certainly don't see it that way. I certainly am appointed with no one who believes that violence towards any group of people, including those in the LGBT community, should be tolerated," Teasley said.