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Old Bridge stands in solidarity against hate

Staff Writer

OLD BRIDGE — A small crowd held up lighted candles near Lombardi Field near Carl Sandburg Middle School in solidarity against hate.

“The time we are forced to lie has to end,” said Barbara “Babs” Casbar Siperstein, a strong LGBT (lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender) activist.

She said the 49 people killed and 53 wounded during the mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on June 12, were enjoying a night out, being honest about who they were.

The shooting has been considered the deadliest mass shooting in American history and is being investigated as an act of terrorism. The shooter, Omar Mateen, was killed by responding SWAT officers.

Cody Thompson, general manager at Comfi Breakfast and Lunch in the township, organized the vigil on June 22.

“We just wanted a small gathering in a parking lot,” he said, adding that he got support from township and school officials and members of the community including police, fire and emergency medical services, who were all on hand.

Thompson said the nightclub was supposed to be a safe haven for the LGBT community, a time to forget the troubles and prejudices of the world.

“That was taken away,” he said, adding that the mass shooting has affected millions of people all over the world.

Less than four years ago, Old Bridge Township suffered its own active shooting incident.

On August 31, 2012, Terence Tyler, 23, opened fire at the former Pathmark on Route 9, killing two employees and then taking his own life.

“This hatred that we talk about is no stranger to Old Bridge. … It visited here less than four years ago and I can tell you what you do here tonight, gathering and lighting these candles, helps,” Mayor Owen Henry said. “I’ve seen it as an eyewitness to the families of the victims here in Old Bridge. You made the difference in their lives moving forward and in Florida when they see these pictures, you are going to help their families move forward.”

Prayers and the names of the 49 people who died were read as people attending the vigil held up their candles.

Siperstein said the vigils have become a lousy habit to get into.

“Once a year in November I speak to groups. We light candles. It’s called ‘Transgender Day of Remembrance,’” she said. “There are generally a couple of dozen people. We read out several hundred names throughout the world and it’s just the tip of the iceberg. [These are] people who were murdered often very brutally, callously, for just wanting to be honest with what they are and the same with gay people, lesbian, gay bi-sexual transgender, it’s all together.”

Siperstein said as children, we are not born with hate.

“We have to learn it. … We’re sown those seeds,” she said.

Schools Superintendent David Cittadino said that is why he felt it was very important to mention what had happened in Orlando to the seniors at Old Bridge High School’s graduation on June 21.

“I realized that [countering hate is] by educating … educating our youth to go forward. Be the change agents that we need, not only here in Old Bridge, but in the United States and beyond because what happened at Club Pulse was an attack on one community and everywhere.”

Cittadino said they have seen that hate has no boundaries.

“Hate will find anyone and anywhere where different beliefs are,” he said. “What makes America great is that in this country we are free to have our own beliefs and we are free to pursue what we love. Love is simple — you can give it and get it back. Hate is burdensome whenever you try to give it; no one else wants it and you take it back only to be filled with more hate and more anger, so if we start giving out more love and getting that back and our students start doing that as they move on from Old Bridge High School into the world, it will make it a better place.”

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@gmnews.com.

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