Locals heartsick over Orlando nightclub shooting: ‘America needs to come together’

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RICHMOND, Va. -- The LGBT community in Richmond swiftly rallied behind the victims of the massacre in Orlando.  Local activists, scholars, and faith groups are condemning the attack that killed more than 50 people a popular gay nightclub there.

At Godfrey's, a popular gay bar on Grace Street in downtown Richmond, the famous weekend "Drag Brunch" went on as planned Sunday; however, Alvion Davenport, who has worked at Godfrey's for 13 years, said the performance felt different after headlines of the Orlando tragedy filled her Facebook page Sunday morning.

Godfrey's in Richmond

Godfrey's in Richmond

"The girls and I performed for our brunch crowd. We normally leave the doors open so we can get air to flow in and all that, but this morning we were like, 'Hey, close that door.'  Just be cautious ," Davenport said.

Davenport has several friends who work at Pulse nightclub, the Orlando bar where the the gruesome shooting played out.  All of her friends were unharmed, but Davenport said she "can just imagine the fright" they felt as victims were gunned down by an assault rifle.  Davenport believes the attack is a direct retaliation for the progress that has been made in  LGBT rights in recent years, but she is dumbfounded by the mass killing.

"It's not like we're going to flip the switch and be like, 'Oh we're not gay no more' because they're killing people. That's not possible," said Davenport.

Jake Burns and Alvion Davenport

Jake Burns and Alvion Davenport

Bill Harrison, executive director at Diversity Richmond, said he woke Sunday morning to see his community under attack.

"It doesn't make a difference if this was because of religion or homophobia, 50 innocent people are dead. America needs to come together in unity and fight that bigotry and that ignorance," said Harrison.

Hundreds of students and community members gathered on the campus of VCU to hold a candlelight vigil to remember the Orlando victims, who's names were released Sunday evening, and to highlight the hardships the LGBT community and minority groups still face on a daily basis.  The attack happened in the middle of Pride Month and during the "Latin Night" at Pulse nightclub.

"It's so sad to see something like that happening in our country and to our community. A lot of disbelief. We hope somewhere along the line something good comes out of this and we have a lot of sympathy for everyone involved," said Bill Sykes, who lives in Richmond and attended the vigil.

Diversity Richmond Executive Director Bill Harrison

Diversity Richmond Executive Director Bill Harrison

Similar vigils will be held in Richmond throughout the week.  Diversity Richmond will honor the Orlando victims at their headquarters on Sherwood Avenue Tuesday at 7pm.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe tweeted the following in response to the Orlando massacre:

Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones released the following statement through his press office:

"Our hearts go out to everyone affected by this recent tragedy. What happened in Orlando is all too familiar here in our state to those families from Virginia Tech where 32 people were killed.  Until today, the Virginia Tech incident was known as the deadliest shooting rampage in American history.  Now the Orlando massacre is known as the deadliest.  How many deaths will it take for us to see change ushered in concerning gun control? How many more examples do we need to accept that some fundamental things have to change; especially with respect to the availability of assault weapons?  It’s just commons sense reform that we need; reform that we have no more time to waste waiting for."

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