Thousands attend hate crime vigil in Omaha
July 27th, 2012
Omaha, NE – City leaders along with about two thousand others gathered in Memorial Park Thursday night to stand against hatred and intolerance and support of the victim of an alleged hate crime in Lincoln.
Holding rainbow flags and placards that read “Charlie, we are proud of you,” the crowd cheered, cried and prayed as speaker after speaker stood before them. A diverse mix of people including members of the LGBT community as well as outside supporters, the crowd applauded as Beth Rigatuso, who heads the gay advocacy group Omaha Heartland Pride, called them out. “What’s so amazing is that I know for a fact there are lesbians here, there are gay people here, there are bisexual people there, there are transgender people here, there are queer people here, there are allies here,” she said.
Charlie Rogers, 33, whose alleged assault early Sunday morning sparked an outpouring of support, did not attend the vigil. But Rigatuso said she was there with her when Rogers shared her story with KETV earlier Thursday.
“I have to tell you, this is real,” Rigatuso said. “She is very real. And she was very hurt by what happened. Her life has been changed forever and she needs to start to heal.”
Rigatuso read a statement from Rogers thanking people for the outpouring of love, kindness and support she has received since the attack. She continued, asking for privacy for herself and her loved ones.
Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle also attended the event, and told the crowd Omaha must make its name as a welcoming city. Omaha recently passed an ordinance protecting gay and lesbian people from discrimination in the workplace, which Suttle supported, and Lincoln soon followed its lead.
Omaha City Councilman Ben Gray was a key proponent of the ordinance and told the crowd that the attack was an effort to spew hatred in the face of tolerance. “Those who want to continue to practice hate and intolerance got angry took it out on an innocent individual who is a pillar in our community in her own right,” Gray said. Rogers is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a former Husker basketball star, and reportedly a small business owner and active volunteer in her community.
“Charlie is a beacon of hope for the rest of us in spite of the problems that she continues to face,” Gray said. “And we as a community, we as a city, we as a state, we as a nation need to stand up and say hate no longer lives in our country, our city and our state, and we will do whatever it takes to end the hatred in this country.”
For others in the crowd, and among the speakers, news of Sunday’s attack was personal and hit close to home. Heather Wilhelm said hearing the story prompted her to step forward and be counted as a gay woman who has never come out. “Out of this horrible and senseless act, I will garner the strength and courage to say those three words to the world that defines me,” Wilhelm said. “Today, I stand before you, my friends, my family and my community, to say those three words that I have never uttered out loud before. I am gay.”
Lincoln police say there are still no suspects in the attack. The investigation is ongoing.