It was one of those surpassingly beautiful scenes in late spring in New England—the sun gone now, the sky at dusk beyond the buildings still glowing white, and the people, residents of Boston, slowing down in crossing Copley Square and joining the group of men and women at the front steps of Trinity Church. The hosts for the gathering, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, drag queens in beards and humongous eyelashes, robed to suggest the garb of nuns, outrageous in everything and exactly, rightly on target, set the tone for the vigil—the determination to be fabulous, strong, beautiful, and, perhaps surprisingly under the circumstances, loving. They were loving toward each other and us in the gathering crowd, but also toward the other great population who are victims in this tragedy, Muslims.
There didn’t appear to be a stage. Instead, people stood on the porch that stretches across the front of Trinity Church. My husband C was at work, and I was by myself at the vigil. The first two or three speakers were from the Sisters. One said, “They are trying to use our grief against Muslim people. We have to say no.”
There were perhaps two hundred people at the beginning, standing facing the church steps in small groups of two or three. Sometimes two men stood, one in front of the other, the one behind with his arms around the one in front, who crossed his arms and held hands with the man holding him.
A woman spoke of our being reminded that our lives are in danger, that getting marriage equality and the overturning of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell didn’t make us safe in America. She said, “The police are not going to make our community safer. We have to fight to make ourselves safer.”
A small group—apparently ad hoc—came forward and sang all the verses of Amazing Grace, someone at the side calling out the words just before they were needed, and the crowd, some knowing all the words by heart and others, unfamiliar with the hymn, struggling to hear the prompter, singing hesitantly. T’was grace that brought us safe thus far, And grace will lead us home.
As the vigil went on, more people joined us and the square in front of the church began to seem noticeably crowded. As the light in the square darkened, the great buildings around us, the Renaissance palace of the Boston Public Library, the Beaux Arts Copley Place Hotel, the jade green glass John Hancock Building, and the massive Trinity Church itself, so massive it seems solid rock, designed by nineteenth century’s greatest American architect, H. H. Richardson, all now beginning to glow with lights inside and lit by exterior lights that illuminate these buildings every night.
We had been given paper cups and candles, and as the square darkened, a speaker called out to the crowd, “Hold up your lights for Orlando!” It was in opposition to the darkness gathering around us: we held up our cups-with-candles. At another point, we were asked to turn around toward the media trucks on the other side of the park in the square—cameras were on us—, to breathe deeply, and then, as loudly as we could, to release our anger, which we did, in a roar.
Then a man in clerical garb took the microphone and told us he was an Episcopal cleric (the church whose porch he stood on is an Episcopal church), that he was a vicar of Trinity Church, and that we were welcome to use the church’s steps. The crowd began to respond to him, cheering after he said something. If the dark clouds in the west turn to rain, he said, we were welcome to come inside, an invitation which was met by more cheers. In fact, he said, we were welcome, all of us, of whatever sexual orientation or gender, however our humanity was defined, to come to any service in Trinity Church, which the crowd cheered. He said, “I am gay.” And then he said, “I am married,” and we understood that to mean he was married to a man. The Vicar said, “Never give up!” There was a roar of approval.
The Vicar then introduced a woman who ordinarily would have been part of the service of Evensong in the church, normally scheduled at eight p.m. every night. She was there to chant a verse that would have been sung at Evensong that had been cancelled because of the vigil. It was the 23rd psalm, and she chanted the verse, Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.
Then a young man told us, “Get out there and love one another,” and exhorted us to turn to the person standing on our right, and then on our left, and embrace that person, which we did.
The two threads of the vigil—love one another, on the one hand, and the Vicar’s never give up—had became more clearly defined as the vigil went on, and I noticed that no real effort was being expended on reconciling them, loving or fighting. The crowd had grown even more.
The next-to-the-last speaker gave us instructions:
I will not be afraid. (The crowd cheered.)
I will not be silent. (The crowd cheered even more.)
Act up. (The crowd yelled back, Act Up!)
We shall overcome.(They applauded, but they almost sang, too.)
The sky was fully dark by this time, and the square was lit by the lights inside the buildings all around us, and by the exterior lights on the buildings, particularly the Copley Plaza and the Boston Public Library, and the great church above us. Our crowd had grown to perhaps five hundred people, though it was hard to tell.
One of the sisters told us about other responses to the Orlando shootings which are going to be held in Boston in the coming days, and then she released us. We applauded and then dispersed. I turned and moved toward the Dartmouth Street side of the square, thinking how two such deeply ingrained impulses in me—loving and fighting—were still deeply ingrained in me and were still unreconciled and would probably remain so.
It was a cool summer night, and I walked up toward the Back Bay Station, thinking about the pleasures and pain of being gay and of being human. On Dartmouth, just before Back Bay Station, a friend saw me and called out. We talked for a moment about the vigil and about memory. Then we hugged one another, and he went on in the direction of the South End, and I went into the station toward home.