National Newswatch

After a mass shooting on Sunday that killed at least 50 people and injured dozens more at a gay nightclub in Florida, many Canadians were reflecting on what the violence means for the LGBTQ community.

Candlelight vigils to mourn the victims were planned in several Canadian cities Sunday night. Hundreds turned up for a candlelight vigil in Toronto in a predominantly gay neighbourhood.

Some carried flags — Canadian, American and Pride — while others held signs. Speakers called for love in the face of violence, and pointed out that in addition to LGBTQ people killed, black, brown and Latino lives were lost in Sunday's massacre.

A gunman wielding an assault-type rifle and a handgun opened fire inside a crowded gay nightclub in Orlando early Sunday morning. He was shot and killed by police. 

The attack came during Pride month, both in the U.S. and Canada.

The executive director of Pride Toronto, a not-for-profit with the goal of bringing together the city's LGBTQ community, said the massacre was a grim reminder of the setbacks his community faces.

"It reminds us that hate and discrimination are still a big part of this society, and that because of this, some of our brothers and sisters this morning lost their lives," Mathieu Chantelois said on Sunday.

The organization also runs Toronto's pride month, and Chantelois said Pride Toronto was already working with city police and the RCMP but would see if there were any additional security steps that could be taken.

"The main objective of Pride is to create a safe space for our community to gather together and feel comfortable," he said.

Spencer Chandra Herbert, a member of the British Columbia legislature, was in Quesnel, B.C., celebrating the small town's second annual pride celebration with his husband when he heard the news. His immediate reaction was disbelief.

"To think that in this so-called accepting day and age that this hatred is still there and could strike at any time, it's unbelievable," Chandra Herbert said.

Hearing about the massacre was especially crushing in the wake of celebrating love with a small community.

"I've been hearing from people how much it means to them to see somebody there, a politician there with their husband, walking hand-in-hand down the main street," Chandra Herbert said. "It sends a pretty strong signal that we here believe in diversity and will stand up against hatred for love."

The violence shows there's still work to be done in educating people and spreading awareness and understanding of LGBTQ issues, said Chandra Herbert, who has repeatedly tried to get transgender rights legislation passed in B.C.

"(Education) is still vitally important because there are still people hiding in closets, afraid of coming out because of violence or fear of being disowned by family members or being beaten up at schools. It's still an issue," Chandra Herbert said.

In Montreal's gay village, many people reacted with shock and sadness Sunday afternoon while pointing out that many LGBTQ individuals still face violence, even in Canada.

Francis Cavanagh, a bartender at Bar Aigle Noir, said the incident proves homophobia is not a thing of the past.

"It's a reminder that we still need gay villages, we still need Pride parades, and we still need solidarity to show we are all together," he said. "These things don't just happen in Russia or in faraway places."

In Edmonton, people attending Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson's annual pride brunch reflected on the Florida massacre.

Lorne Stelmach said he feels safer in Canada because gun-control laws are different here.

"There are pockets of bigotry here and there, and we try to deal with those as best we can," Stelmach said. "Hopefully, as we grow as a community, we will extinguish all that bigotry."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered Canada's condolences to the victims, calling the massacre a "domestic terror attack".

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who is openly gay, wrote on Twitter that her thoughts are with the LGBTQ community while B.C. Premier Christy Clark tweeted that she is "incredibly saddened by the evil brutality" of the Florida shooting.

—With files from Gemma Karstens-Smith in Vancouver, Morgan Lowrie in Montreal, Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton and The Associated Press.

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press

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