In cities across America, mourners have gathered at candle-lit vigils to commemorate the victims of the attack on gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Florida on Sunday (12 June 2016). They also gathered as a sign of defiance and unity to send out a message that the LGBT community will not be intimidated.

Mourners lit candles, waved pride flags and held up signs stating messages such as 'We are stronger than fear' and 'Love is stronger than hate'.

The gay, lesbian and transgender community has seen violence before, from Harvey Milk to Matthew Shepard, along with attacks on an ever-lengthening list of transgender women. But never anything like this.

The attack on the Pulse nightclub saw at least 50 people kills and 53 others injured in what was the deadliest mass-shooting in the US to date. The gunman, identified as Omar Mateen of Fort Pierce, Florida, told his father he had been disturbed by the sight of two men kissing in Miami.

Orlando gay club shooting mourners
People hold up an illuminated sign reading 'Love is stronger than hate' at a vigil in San DiegoMike Blake/Reuters

In New York City, LGBT people and their supporters converged on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village in spontaneous reaction to the shooting. The Manhattan bar became a national symbol of gay rights after a 1969 police raid led to violent street riots.

Orlando shooting gay vigils
Crowds gather outside the Stonewall Inn in New York to commemorate the victims of the Orlando gay club shootingBryan R Smith/AFP
Orlando gay club shooting mourners
A couple embraces during a vigil for the Orlando massacre victims in the Queens borough of New York CityShannon Stapleton/Reuters
Orlando gay club shooting mourners
A couple embrace outside the Stonewall Inn in New York CitySpencer Platt/Getty
Orlando gay club shooting mourners
Mourners gather outside of the iconic New York City gay and lesbian bar The Stonewall InnSpencer Platt/Getty
Orlando gay club shooting mourners
Tribute signs are placed on the Gay Liberation Monument on Christopher Street, near the Stonewall Inn in New York CityMonika Graff/Getty
Orlando gay club shooting mourners
Mourners hold a vigil outside the Stonewall Inn in New York City, birthplace of the gay rights movementSpencer Platt/Getty
Orlando gay club shooting mourners
Mourners lay flowers during a vigil outside the Stonewall Inn in New York CityBryan R Smith/AFP
Orlando gay club shooting mourners
Former Senator Tom Duane, who was the only openly gay member of the New York State Senate, raises his fist in a show of defiance during a vigil in New York CityBryan R Smith/AFP

In San Francisco, thousands of people gathered in the Castro district, just as they had in 1978 when gay rights leader Harvey Milk was assassinated, and just as they had in the 1990s when Act Up protesters clashed with police to secure medical treatment for those dying of Aids-related illnesses.

Orlando gay club shooting mourners
People gather in the Castro District in San Francisco for a vigil for the victims of the Orlando shootingStephen Lam/Reuters
Orlando gay club shooting mourners
People gather at a vigil in San FranciscoStephen Lam/Reuters
Orlando gay club shooting mourners
A man wearing a cap bearing the message 'Love conquers hate' takes part in a vigil in San FranciscoStephen Lam/Reuters
Orlando gay club shooting mourners
People comfort each other at a vigil in San FranciscoStephen Lam/Reuters
Orlando gay club shooting mourners
People place lit candles around a statue of Abraham Lincoln outside San Francisco City HallStephen Lam/Reuters
Orlando gay club shooting mourners
A couple hugs at a candlelight vigil held in San Francisco for the victims of the Orlando attackBeck Diefenbach/Reuters
Orlando gay club shooting mourners
People attend a vigil in San Francisco for the victims of the shooting at a gay nightclub in OrlandoStephen Lam/Reuters

In Washington DC, the American flag flew at half mast on top of the White House as mourners gathered in sorrow and solidarity. The Gay Men's Chorus of Washington marched up Pennsylvania Avenue singing the civil rights anthem We Shall Overcome. In an emotional speech, President Barack Obama described the worst mass-shooting in US history as "an act of terror" and "an act of hate".

Orlando shooting gay vigils
A couple embraces during a vigil in front of the White House in Washington DCJoshua Roberts/Reuters
Orlando shooting gay vigils
The US flag on the White House flies at half mast as people gather for a vigil to remember the victims of the worst mass shooting in US historyJames Lawler Duggan/Reuters
Orlando shooting gay vigils
People hold a vigil in front of the White House in Washington DCJoshua Roberts/Reuters
Orlando shooting gay vigils
President Barack Obama speaks about the worst mass shooting in US historyJoshua Roberts/Reuters

Similar scenes were witnessed in Dallas, San Diego and many other US cities. Members of LGBT groups and their supporters met in the Boystown neighbourhood of Chicago. Also there in solidarity were mothers who have lost their children to gun violence. Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said the city has stepped up security in gay communities. Many people marching in the Los Angeles-area gay pride parade honoured the victims. A heavily armed man who said he was heading to the LA pride parade was arrested in nearby Santa Monica, but there was no apparent link with the deadly mass shooting in Florida.

Orlando gay club shooting mourners
Mourners pay tribute to the victims of the Orlando shooting during a memorial service in San DiegoSandy Huffaker/AFP
Orlando gay club shooting mourners
People take part in a candlelight vigil in San DiegoMike Blake/Reuters
Orlando gay club shooting mourners
People embrace at a candlelight vigil in San DiegoMike Blake/Reuters
Orlando gay club shooting mourners
A couple hugs at a candlelight vigil in San Diego in remembrance of the victims of the shooting
Orlando gay club shooting mourners
A woman listens as a choir sings at a candlelight vigil in San DiegoMike Blake/Reuters
Orlando gay club shooting mourners
A pride flag flies at half mast during a memorial service in San DiegoSandy Huffaker/AFP
Orlando gay club shooting mourners
A Sister of Perpertual Indulgence hugs a mourner during a vigil in DallasLaura Buckman/AFP
Orlando gay club shooting mourners
A woman speaks to mourners during a vigil in Dallas, for victims of the attack at Orlando's Pulse NightclubLaura Buckman/AFP
Orlando gay club shooting mourners
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence show their support for victims of the Orlando shooting during the 2016 Gay Pride Parade in Los AngelesMark Ralston/AFP
Orlando gay club shooting mourners
Two police officers hold hands as they march during 2016 Gay Pride Parade in West HollywoodMark Ralston/AFP
Orlando gay club shooting mourners
People hold candles during a vigil for the victims of the Pulse club shooting at the Ember restaurant and bar in Orlando, FloridaMandel Ngan/AFP
Orlando gay club shooting mourners
Friends and family members embrace outside the Orlando Police HeadquartersSteve Nesius/Reuters

The attack struck a place that has long been thought of as a safe haven – the gay nightclub. "Nightclubs have always been sacred spaces for queer people, places to gather and glitter away from the judging glares of society, where we could love and be loved for who we are and how we want to be," wrote Paul Raushenbush, a clergyman and popular gay writer, in an emotional post on Facebook.

The shooting began just after 2am on Sunday at Pulse, where around 350 patrons were attending a Latin music night. Survivors described scenes of carnage and pandemonium as the shooter took hostages inside a bathroom.

Nearly 24 hours after the rampage ended, authorities had publicly named only 21 of the victims, half of whom were in their 20s. Family and friends of people who are missing are waiting to find out whether their loved ones were among the 50 people killed and 53 wounded in the deadliest mass shooting in US history.