Syracuse University Magazine


The Honorable John T. Rafferty, Retired, (left) stands with L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti at the city's Gay Pride Parade, which honored the victims of the Orlando nightclub shootings that took place hours earlier.

A Point of Pride During a Devastating Time

By John T. Rafferty

The universe strives after balance. That is a premise we all absorbed in a number of classes at SU. No system or just cause ever proceeds irresistibly forward. It is ever subject to setbacks and worse. A proverbial “setback and worse” occurred for the LGBTQ community early Sunday morning June 12, when a terrorist, who’d pledged allegiance to ISIS, entered Pulse, a popular gay Orlando nightclub, and fired volley after volley of bullets into the crowd on the dance floor. Forty-nine innocents were massacred and scores injured. In the age of nanosecond communication, gay clubs and gathering sites throughout the nation, and around the globe, were filled with disbelief, horror, and unspeakable grief. 

What then would be the reaction of the intelligent, informed, emotionally warm LGBTQ community in Los Angeles, where I live? What was to become of its Gay Pride Parade, the nation’s largest, scheduled to begin just hours after the massacre in Orlando? Cancellation was not an option. It wasn’t simply the months of planning, effort, and expense. It was the fact that gays, who had so courageously marched forward from Stonewall to the legitimization of gay marriage, were not about to abandon their celebration of life, liberty, and freedom. They could not be dissuaded even by reports that a heavily armed man was headed to the parade route.

Retired from the bench of the Los Angeles Superior Court, I received a call that morning, asking if I would join L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck at the front of the parade. If ever there were a time when the L.A. gay community needed to know its civil authority, police leadership, and judiciary stood with it in solidarity, it was then. I had marched at the beginning of the same parade two years before. But, this was different. 

At the parade lineup, there was a distinctively somber, even quiet, atmosphere among the marchers and the crowd. It was all so very different from the rambunctious gaiety of years past. Then again, this wasn’t just another Gay Pride Parade. Orlando was hauntingly fresh in everyone’s mind. No sooner did the event begin, when the massive rows of well-wishers on both sides of Santa Monica Boulevard, the 5th Avenue of West Hollywood, first smiled at the marchers. Seconds later they broke out in joyous cheer, like I have never witnessed before. They waved American flags and gay flags and held up signs proudly exclaiming, “We Love Orlando.” One well-wisher handed her Orlando sign to the mayor. Another handed him his gay flag. The mayor proudly and happily carried the sign and waved the flag throughout the parade. As for this aging jurist, I waved so incessantly and so feverishly that, by the end, my arms were losing their feeling. All those present were now gratefully aware that the police had intercepted in the City of Santa Monica the heavily armed man, bent on devastation at the parade. Hence, when the Swat Team, in full battle gear, proceeded along the sidelines in its Humvee, the crowd clapped its approval and thanks. 

At the termination of the parade, I posed with straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender LAPD officers and deputy sheriffs. What an incredible honor it all was for me! I was so utterly proud of the LGBTQ community. May God always bless it and may God always bless America. I’m so glad my mother, Pearl, who died at 98, brought me across the Peace Bridge from Canada when I was a child and raised me in this truly blessed land! 

The Honorable John T. Rafferty, Retired, is a 1970 graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences and was president of the graduating Class of 1973 at the College of Law. He retired in 2009 after serving for 25 years on the bench of both the Los Angeles Municipal Court and the Los Angeles Superior Court.