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LGBT community, reeling from Orlando attack, comes together in solidarity
Groups encourage activism, inclusiveness in wake of attack
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The shock and sorrow is still coursing through Jason Hewett’s veins.

A deadly attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando early Sunday morning has left him reeling.

“I’m heartbroken,” said Hewett, a Hall County resident who has long been active in the fight for LGBT rights.

The confluence of hate and terrorism that appears to have inspired the shooting is being felt in minority communities across the nation, the number of lives impacted by the tragedy unknown.

“Pulse, a gay dance club, was hosting Latin Night, which means that the overwhelming number of victims were people of color and members of the LGBT community,” said Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, the leading LGBT advocacy group in the state. “This tragedy is a sobering reminder that although large legal advancements have been made for LGBT people, the hatred and desire to cause harm to our community is alive, well and empowered.”

Linda Sartore, a Gainesville resident whose oldest son is gay, said she shudders at the thought of the families now deprived of watching their loved ones reach life’s many milestones.

After all, she could be the mother grieving today.

“I was watching the national news last night and they were interviewing a mother who had been waiting for hours to hear about the status of her only child, a son ... and I saw her break down ... it was almost like it was me hearing it about my son and I started to cry,” Sartore said. “It made it so real.”

The attack, which left at least 49 people dead, has reignited national debates about gun control, international terrorism and mental health care.

For Hewett, there’s plenty of blame to go around.

“Until we the people insist on replacing the divisiveness in our political landscape with inclusion and acceptance, and we work together to conquer the challenges of creating a safe and thriving society, we all share in the guilt of allowing horrific events such as that in Orlando last weekend to occur,” Hewett said.

The aftermath has brought out the best in LGBT and Latino communities, advocates said.

Graham said his organization is providing support to the individuals affected by the tragedy by encouraging people to donate blood or make a donation to victims’ families.

He is also working closely with other groups and leaders across the state to support public events that reflect “the collective grief that the LGBT community and our allies are experiencing this week.”

This included a vigil Tuesday night at the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, which was seen as a small first step in a healing process that may never be complete.

It was conducted entirely in English and Spanish “to ensure that the Latino and immigrant community was welcome during this trying time,” said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.

“The vigil was a great opportunity to come together as a community across ethnicities, race, sexual orientation and faith,” he added.

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