A photograph flashes across the screen — a smiling, dark-eyed young man with a single earring and a neatly-trimmed goatee.
“Jean Carlos Nieves Rodriguez, 27 years old,” says the voice of Lady Gaga, and then she appears, staring solemnly into the camera, dressed entirely in black. “John started working at McDonald’s at age 15 to help support his family, and was recently made the manager of a check-cashing store. He purchased his first home this spring, so that his mother could live there, too.”
So begins a powerful video tribute, “Stop the Hate,” released Wednesday by the Human Rights Campaign and dedicated to the 49 victims of the June 12 shooting rampage at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. The horrific act of violence at a popular sanctuary for the LGBTQ community became the deadliest mass-shooting in the country’s history.
Over 18 minutes, the names and faces of the victims unspool one by one: A pharmaceutical technician who loved to change his hair color and experiment with makeup. A nightclub employee who overcame struggles with drug use and had recently started going to church and writing poetry. Two doting partners of 16 years who co-owned a salon. A charismatic lead singer of a popular cover band. A mother who loved salsa dancing, and died shielding her son from a hailstorm of bullets.
Vignettes from their lives are read by 49 actors, directors and celebrities — Angela Bassett, Cuba Gooding Jr., Laverne Cox, Connie Britton, Caitlyn Jenner and Sofia Vergara, among many others — several of whom visibly struggle with their emotions as they speak.
The attack on the Pulse nightclub has galvanized LGBTQ activists and civil rights leaders, many of whom have said that discriminatory laws and rhetoric aimed at the LGBTQ community cultivates intolerance and violence. Following the tragedy in Orlando, the Human Rights Campaign said it has called on Congress to establish legal protections for LGBTQ people across the country and implement stronger gun control laws. The “Stop the Hate” urges viewers to contact Congress about these issues, and to support the Orlando victims’ families and survivors through healorlando.org.
“The hate that stole these 49 individuals from all those who loved them has been allowed to flourish in our country for too long,” said Ryan Murphy, an Emmy Award-winning screenwriter who directed the video along with Ned Martel, a TV producer and former Washington Post editor. “We have an obligation as Americans to stand up against prejudice and bigotry that would incite violence against someone simply for who they are.”