Hundreds gather in Arenas District in defiance against violence, rhetoric directed at LGBTQ+ community

With the eerie presence of police snipers on rooftops above them and dance music rhythmically throbbing in the distance, members of the local LGBTQ+ community, their allies, and others delivered a clear message.
Hundreds gathered in Palm Springs late Sunday afternoon at a candlelight vigil in The Arenas District. On the rooftop, a sniper from the Palm Springs Police Department is seen standing guard over the gathering.

With the eerie presence of police snipers on rooftops above them and dance music rhythmically throbbing in the distance, members of the local LGBTQ+ community, their allies, and local politicians gathered in Palm Springs late Sunday afternoon to deliver a clear, powerful message:

Hate has no home here, but no community is safe until “angry young men” lose access to assault weapons.

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“Each and every one of us knows it could have been us,” said Palm Springs Mayor Lisa Middleton as she addressed hundred who gathered on Arenas Road. “We all know, because we learned it the hard way, that we are targets. But we’re going to stand up strong and we are never going to back down. We are not going to give up one inch of this land.”

That land is Palm Springs, long home to the Coachella Valley’s largest LGBTQ+ community, and The Arenas District that has become a welcome refuge to those who simply want to live as their true selves. The nightclubs and restaurants along Arenas Road are not unlike Club Q in Colorado Springs, the scene of yet another mass shooting earlier this month that claimed the lives of five people and injured dozens of others.

The tragic events that unfolded at Club Q on Nov. 19 were the subject of Sunday’s candlelight vigil.

As with many mass shootings in America, it came at the hands of a young white male who had access to an assault rifle. As they addressed the crowd on Sunday, both Middleton and Democratic Rep. Raul Ruiz railed against the laws that allow ownership of assault weapons by civilians and lawmakers who refuse to take a stand against them.

“We need to address angry young men,” Middleton said. “And we address angry young men by not making it easy for them to get a gun.”

Added Ruiz: “There is no reason an AR-15 should be in the hands of young men and women and on the streets.”

Sabryna Williams, a local drag performer who was herself the target of hateful rhetoric this year, speaks Sunday during a candlelight vigil held in memory of the victims of the Club Q shooting in Colorado.

The event was organized this week by Desert Stonewall Democrats (DSD), with support from business owners in The Arenas District and the Palm Springs Cultural Center. As each speaker took the microphone they acknowledged the early and vocal support of the Palm Springs Police Department following the Colorado tragedy, and also the presence of police on nearby rooftops.

“I hate that we have to be here tonight,” said the primary speaker, Elle Kurpiewski, representing DSD. “I love seeing you, but I hate why we’re here.”

In a moving and powerful speech, it was Ruiz who brought focus to a path forward for many experiencing anger, shock and fear in the days following the Club Q shooting.

“In our brokenness, we come together to heal,” he told the crowd prior to the candle lighting. “As we mourn, let’s turn our focus not on hate, but on love. It is through love that we will teach our children not to hate.”

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