For the first time on Monday a rainbow flag flapped in the wind alongside an American flag at Schenectady City Hall.
Chad Putman, co-founder of Schenectady Pride, told a group of about 100 people in the City Hall rotunda Monday evening that the tragic Orlando shooting on Sunday that claimed the lives of about 50 people is an opportunity to unite.
“When tragedy strikes this country, whether it’s in Orlando or another part of the country, rather than dividing us, it’s an opportunity to unite us and make us stronger,” said Putman, who serves as deputy city clerk.
Tears filled Putman’s eyes and his voice cracked as he noted the rainbow flag hanging underneath the American flag outside City Hall.
“That’s a testament of the compassion and love that this city has, not just for its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, but for all the diversity that makes up this incredible city,” said Putman alongside his husband, Spero Zoulas.
Angelica Morris, executive director of the Schenectady County Human Rights Commission, encouraged the crowd to stand together against “hate, violence, racism, oppression and intolerance.”
“Let today be a day of celebration for those who are here and to go out and be a beacon of hope for those who have lost a loved one or friend,” she said. “We’re here to offer them our prayers and support to let them know they have allies and supporters here in the county and this city.”
Putman said in 2015 there were 21 transgender and gender nonconforming individuals who were killed. So far in 2016 there have been 12 murders nationwide, he said.
“I believe that tragedy is a call to action,” he said.
Putman, who is running for the 49th Senate District seat being vacated by state Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, is calling on the state Legislature to pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act.
The Assembly has passed the bill for years but it has stalled in the Senate. Putman said the time is now for it to pass. The legislative session ends on Thursday.
“Urge the governor to urge the state Senate to pass GENDA now,” he said. “We cannot wait any longer. The tragedy in Orlando is evidence of the need of these protections. If this doesn’t inspire our Senate to act now, I don’t know what will.”
During a meeting after the vigil, the Schenectady City Council passed a resolution calling for the state Legislature to pass GENDA.
“Not just some of us should be protected, all of us should be protected,” Council President Leesa Perazzo said during the vigil. Council members Marion Porterfield, John Polimeni and Vince Riggi were also in attendance.
The vigil concluded with a prayer of comfort led by Pastor Jason Cooper of CityReach Church Schenectady.
Dozens of people held hands and swayed in a circle as they sang along to the song “We Are The World” and hugged each other before leaving City Hall.
“There is something in all of us that drives us to unite for something greater and bigger than ourselves,” Cooper said. “Right now as we are gathered here we should all take comfort and be encouraged that that driving force within us is more powerful than any evil that’s trying to separate us.”
Omar Mateen, 29, shot more than 100 people at a busy gay nightclub early Sunday morning in Orlando. About 50 people died and another 53 were injured. Mateen, who claimed he was motivated by Islamist beliefs, was shot and killed by police.
The shooting was the worst act of terrorism in the country since 9/11 and the deadliest attack on a gay target in the nation’s history. The casualties exceeded the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, where 32 people were killed, and the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, where 26 people died.
A candlelight vigil was also held Monday evening at West Capitol Park in Albany by the Pride Center of the Capital Region. Earlier in the day, a memorial service was held at Skidmore College.
There will be a Saratoga Pride vigil on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at the pavilion at Congress Park in downtown Saratoga Springs.
On Sunday night, two vigils were held in Albany, including one at Townsend Park and another outside of Rocks gay bar. Both drew more than 100 people.
This month marks Pride Month for the LGBTQ community. Thousands attended the Pride Center of the Capital Region’s annual festival and parade in Albany on Saturday.
This Saturday there will be a celebration hosted by Schenectady Pride at 3 p.m. in front of Schenectady City Hall.
Reach Gazette reporter Haley Viccaro at 395-3114, [email protected] or @HRViccaro on Twitter.