Chapter Hosts Vigil the Day after Orlando Tragedy

By Mia Furtado

On Monday evening, June 13, one day after the horrific event that occurred at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, the PFLAG Denver chapter
hosted a vigil for the lives lost the day before.

Like many, when I woke up Sunday, June 12, my world was rocked to the core with sorrow and disbelief that another extreme act of hatred and violence happened in the land of the equal and the land of the free. As I sat mute, next to my wife, unable to break away from my phone, I became so overwhelmed with emotion that I knew that I was not okay and the only thing I needed and wanted was to be with my community. I emailed the PFLAG Denver board and suggested we host a vigil, and before we knew it, the event took off like wildfire.

Once word of the vigil spread, local news stations asked for written and in-person interviews and the RSVP totals continued to climb on the Facebook event page. We were expecting 20 to 50 people max but as the day progressed, that number soared. Along with great public interest, donations and services were offered left and right. Both the Denver Gay Men’s Chorus and Harmony: a Colorado Chorale sang during the ceremony. Also, trained ASL (American Sign Language) interpreters reached out to offer to interpret the entire program so that queer members of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing could attend and participate as well.

The speaking line-up for the vigil was brief, with seven speakers offering guided meditations and prayers in which the attendees voiced the need for acceptance, love and compassion. Jean Hodges, PFLAG National President, and Dave Montez, Executive Director of ONE Colorado, spoke. In addition, the names of the victims were read aloud by Blanca Leos, PFLAG Denver president, and a moment of silence was observed to honor each victim while candles were lit. News reports covering the vigil estimated that attendance was around 2,000 people despite the thunderstorm and rain showers that challenged the outdoor venue at the Cheesman Park pavilion. As the storms began to break and the skies cleared, a rainbow arced over the pavilion, a sign which many took for serendipity and celebrated with cheers. Huddled under umbrellas and ponchos and even standing in the rain without any cover, Denver’s community stood for an hour and a half in solidarity with the victims, families, and community of Orlando to mourn the senseless act of hate. Many shared their grief at the event through tears, words and embraces.

As the vigil came to a close, mourners created their own memorials by leaving flowers, signs and candles surrounding the pools, stairs and flower gardens of the park. Donations for the families were accepted and over $1,000 was donated. One mourner spoke to members of the board, thanking them for hosting this event because she was from Orlando and knew many of the victims.

Scholarship Awardees Honored at May Meeting

One of our most treasured annual events happened on May 5th, when the PFLAG Denver Scholarship Program awarded $10,000 in scholarships to three very deserving high school students! This was our biggest year yet in terms of award amounts, number of submitted applications, and number of difficult hours the committee put in to decide which applicants would receive our three scholarships!

In front of a packed, excited house, the three 2016 scholarship recipients were introduced and spoke to us about their journeys to arrive where they are today, their leadership experiences, their plans for the future, and how our monetary help will give them a boost into a wonderfully bright future. Both of our top two scholarship donors ̶ Dean Lewallen (all the way from Brooklyn) and Rex O’Neal ̶ were in attendance, as were many of our generous 2016 fundraiser donors, parents of awardees, and a smiling crowd of well-wishers.

Janet and Dean Lewallen introduced Brian Alfredo Pena Guevara, the 2016 recipient of the $5,000 Elinor and Tom Lewallen Memorial Scholarship! Dean delighted us with loving details of his parents’ lifelong accomplishments and how they both would have been so proud of Brian. Supporting same-sex rights was far from popular 38 years ago. But after Janet came out to Elinor and Tom in 1978, they eventually made it a mission to educate people on gay rights. Elinor said in one of her writings, “I chose some of the causes, but the big one – sexual orientation ̶ chose us. We could do no other.” Both Elinor and Tom had a burning desire to share the love of God with all of God’s people; to live out the commandment to love all as brothers and sisters. In their own quiet way (and when necessary not so quiet), their passion for justice for all people has moved us forward. The Scholarship Committee believes that Brian shares these values of justice and action.

Read more about the scholarship winners in our newsletter.

Volunteers needed for Pridefest!

PFLAG Denver is looking for volunteers to participate in Pridefest, June 18th and June19th.   We are in search of 10-12 volunteers to volunteer at the booth from 11-7 pm on Saturday June 18th, and 10-6 pm Sunday June 19th.  We are looking for 2hr commitments from each volunteer, at the booth you will be giving out PFLAG pamphlets during these times as well as answering questions from people who stop at the booth.  If you are interested in participating during the parade on Sunday we can also use some participants.  Please call the PFLAG office at #303-573-5861 or email pflagden@tde.com. We look forward to speaking with you!