Participants hug at the foot of the Hillcrest Pride Flag during the rally. Photo by Chris Stone
Participants hug at the foot of the Hillcrest Pride Flag during the rally. Photo by Chris Stone

Amid repeated cheers, Todd Gloria urged hundreds of fellow gays and lesbians Monday night to speak up on gun laws in the wake of the Orlando shooting, blasting the FBI for inaction.

San Diego Councilman Todd Gloria gives an impassioned speech at the rally. Photo by Chris Stone

“This is not about a religion,” the San Diego councilman told a packed Hillcrest auditorium. “This is about insane people who must be stopped, who [should] never be allowed to have a gun.”

Gloria, the 3rd District councilman headed for the state Assembly, later said: “We can make sure that someone who is interviewed by the FBI twice never gets an assault weapon.”

Earlier, Assembly Speaker Emeritus Toni Atkins noted that Orlando shooter Omar Mateen legally bought what she called a military AR-15 rifle “that is made only to kill as many people as quickly as possible.”

She recited Sacramento’s efforts to limit assault weapons but said “California can’t do this alone … It’s time for Congress to take action on background checks, ban assault rifles and ban people on the terror watch list from possessing firearms.”

Thousands later marched down a blocked-off University Avenue between Normal Street and Avenue to the Hillcrest Pride Flag, where a men’s choir sang John Lennon’s “Imagine.” (The San Diego Women’s Chorus wearing T-shirts of multiple colors also performed.)

Rabbi Laurie Coskey, executive director of the Interfaith Center for Worker Justice, sheds tears toward the end of the rally. Photo by Chris Stone

As the choirs sang, and afterward, flowers and candles were placed at the base of the rainbow flag. The crowd then proceeded down the street to Rich’s San Diego, a gay nightclub, where neighborhood bar owners read the names of the 49 Orlando victims.

One bar owner broke into tears and couldn’t continue. The bar saw more choir and solo efforts, including one by Danielle LoPresti, with lyrics that included “We’re no less human.”

Admitting that Orlando shattered “our sense of security — even 3,000 miles away,” Gloria at the LGBT center urged San Diego’s gay community to “show up” at local bars and businesses.

“I want you to know that you are going to be so safe, you’re going to be incredibly safe because we have the best police department in the United States,” Gloria said at the San Diego LGBT Community Center.

Amid a turnout — indoors and out — estimated at 1,500 to 2,000, Gloria noted the presence of local officials including U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, county Supervisor Dave Roberts, school board member Kevin Beiser and fellow council members Lorie Zapf and Myrtle Cole — plus his council successor Chris Ward.

(He said Christine Kehoe, the lesbian former state lawmaker and councilwoman, couldn’t make it inside.)

“There will be attempts to divide two vulnerable communities — the LGBT community and the Muslim community,” he said. “Are we going to allow that to happen?”

The director of the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus leads the crowd in song at the foot of the Hillcrest Pride Flag. Photo by Chris Stone

“Nooooo!” shouted the boisterous crowd.

Gloria, admitting he had trouble speaking Sunday, said: “We are going to make sure that our voices, our presence is known. … For too long for too many of us, we grew up having to be silent.”

He said hate crimes like that of Mateen are about “trying to shut us up.”

When he suggested that doesn’t sound like his community, laughter erupted.

“We’re not quiet, are we? We make our voice heard!” he said. “Our bars and clubs are supposed to be safe. For decades and decades, that was the only place we could go — to feel safe.

Recalling how a year ago at the same center San Diegans celebrated the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, Gloria said: “We got that done…. We have changed policy, we have changed our country. We can do it again. It does not have to be this way.”

He concluded to cheers: “I ask you to persist. Let’s offer our condolences, let’s hug one another. Let’s support our community, let’s refuse to be afraid. Let’s refuse to be divided. And let’s make sure we act. Not for (us) but for every American. Are you with me?”

Others spoke as well, including Mayor Kevin Faulconer, but the loudest and longest cheers may have gone to longtime LGBT activist Nicole Murray Ramirez when he addressed Donald Trump “with all due respect. … It’s time for you to shut the f— up!”

The veteran San Diego Human Relations Commission member ended with a benediction of sorts: “So I say to you all: Take the spirit of love, community — of one San Diego — in this room tonight, take it home with you. Let it nourish and sustain you. … I say to you all: God bless America.”

Then tears were shed as the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus concluded with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”