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Orange County religious and community leaders decry Orlando violence, urge unity

Orange County religious and community leaders come together
Orange County community leaders gather in Anaheim on Sunday to denounce violence and urge unity.
(Anh Do/Los Angeles Times)

Orange County religious and community leaders gathered Sunday to stand in solidarity against the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., that left 50 dead and at least 53 injured.

“We need to remind each other that the power of love overcomes hatred and the power of mercy conquers vengeance,” Grace Dyrness, vice president of the board of Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, said at a news conference in Anaheim attended by 10 other community leaders. “We resist and denounce efforts to see Islam as the cause of this violence. We stand together in our common humanity ... and it is by affirming this unity that we build a just, peaceful and equitable world.”

Hussam Ayloush, who heads the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he hopes “a voice of sanity” will prevail for those who oppose violence, “especially harm against our LGBTQ friends.”

“We have failed leaders who don’t know any other way but to demonize a community,” Ayloush said, noting that such rhetoric incites hatred against Muslims, African Americans, gays and others.

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He pointed to the deadly shooting last month at UCLA in which Mainak Sarkar, a former doctoral student, killed William Klug, a highly regarded professor. Sarkar then turned the gun on himself.

Ayloush, whose son-in-law was one of the victim’s students, recalled that “right away, people assumed the perpetrator was Muslim. They went on a rampage blaming him before knowing the facts. We must not do that. We must listen and learn first.”

One by one, the speakers urged the public to “hold hands” or “draw your circles closer” to fight intolerance.

This is a “terrorist event, an activity of someone who has no faith,” said A.J. Blackwood of the Progressive Interfaith Alliance. Instead of rushing to judge others based on how they worship, he pleaded for patience and understanding in a month intended to celebrate the lives of LGBT people. “We can only make change one heart and one mind at a time.”

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Garden Grove Mayor Bao Nguyen, who is openly gay, shared condolences with LGBT groups, saying, “At times like these, it’s more important to hold our loved ones close, have compassion and show the world that we stand together against hate, not divided against each other.”

Most of the speakers stressed that Islam is “a religion of peace.” There will be temptation in the coming days “to pit us against them, to blame Muslims, to blame LGBTs,” said Sarah Fiske-Phillips, assistant pastor at Irvine United Congregational Church. “Resist the temptation and come together in love.”

Laura Kanter of the LGBT Center of Orange County said it saddens her that crisis “is sometimes what brings us together. It shouldn’t  be that way.” Our communities need to stay vigilant when challenged by “the tragedy of homophobia, the tragedy of transphobia.”

Her volunteers and staff had planned a fundraiser to benefit the center Sunday night. Instead they will collect donations for families of the Orlando victims.

anh.do@latimes.com

Twitter: @newsterrier

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