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Chicago Equality Rally unites Midsommarfest in defiance
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond

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While thousands joined the Equality March for Unity and Pride June 11 in Washington, D.C., Chicago was one of dozens of cities nationwide to hold its own rally as part of Pride Month and in honor of the 49 people who were killed at the Pulse Nightclub shootings in Orlando one year ago.

The venue for the Chicago Equality Rally was the Pride Stage at Midsommarfest in the heart of Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood.

Celebrated actor, writer and producer Fawzia Mirza served as the rally's emcee. Her powerful, exuberant voice was echoed by a crowd whose raucous enthusiasm was unencumbered by the day's stifling heat.

"We are more powerful when we were connected," Mirza said. "We are in a place in our culture, our country, our world where we all need to not be divided by anything. We all have got to come together because that man who is representing us right now [Trump] does not represent a single person on this street or in this city."

Mirza remembered the Pulse massacre as a moment that affected multiple communities. "We've got to embrace each other and know that, while we are different, the spaces between us are the things that are going to bring us together," she asserted.

It was a message emphasized by a who's who of local and national advocates, activists, community leaders and politicians who each stepped up to the microphone to create a tapestry of defiance, unity and insurrection.

The ethereal voice of radiant Chicago musician Jess Godwin, the equally compelling sound of actor and singer Darrian Ford and the dynamic passion of the Lakeside Pride Music Ensemble contributed interludes the artistry of which provoked as many tears as they did a jubilant celebration of the LGBTQ community at its mightiest.

Vives Q creator and community activist Emmanuel Garcia memorialized the Puerto Rican, Mexican, Salvadorian and undocumented individuals who lost their lives in Orlando along with the 12 transgender women of color who have been murdered so far in the U.S. in 2017.

"Trans and queer Black and brown people are more likely to be targeted, jailed, imprisoned and murdered by a racist, misogynist immigration and criminal justice system," Garcia said. "Through rejection we found self-love and self-acceptance; we found community which is what we have today."

Jewish Reconstructionist Rabbi Rachel Weiss called for a moment of silence to remember the Pulse victims. It seemed as though that call was answered throughout the Midsommarfest's entire length along Clark Street.

"The voice of the LGBTQ religious world, it needs to be amplified," Weiss declared. "It cannot continue to be ceded to the homophobic, transphobic and conservative political landscape that has manipulated our traditions for their agenda."

"Like most of you, I expected a different outcome on election night," Pride Action Tank Executive Director Kim Hunt said. "The time for processing is over. Our minds and bodies have been on the battleground for a long time. As scary as this time is, we are not powerless."

Chicago House TransLife Care Manager Channyn Lynne Parker enhanced the poetry of Bob Dylan with her own, signature eloquence.

"Take notice of this moment," she said. "Make this moment sacred. These times are a gift reminding us to not be lulled to sleep under the false promise of liberty and justice for all. Let us be reminded that our strength lies in our unity … . We have all been woken up to how fragile freedom really is."

She also took the opportunity to address Melania Trump who, along with her husband, had expressed outrage over a piece of art created by comedian Kathy Griffin.

"If the false image of a beheaded Donald Trump struck terror into your 11-year-old son, then just imagine the terror that goes through the heart of a transgender child living under your husband's administration," Parker noted.

Bisexual Queer Alliance Chicago founder and community advocate Brother Michael C. Oboza emphasized the pivotal role that bisexual individuals have played since the earliest days of the LGBT civil rights movement. "Bisexual and queer people are as individual and profound as our legacy," he said. "If you're going use the 'b' in LGBT, please don't use us as a token or as a quota."

Activist and Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame member Rick Garcia provided the voice of the undocumented now under siege by the Trump administration.

"He is committed to ripping our families apart, tearing children from their parents and sending young adults back to a country they have never lived in," Garcia said. "Now, more than ever, we must stand up."

As part of his action steps, Garcia called for a mass voter-registration drive throughout Midsommarfest and in the months ahead.

Emphasizing Garcia's words was a line-up of political leaders who have committed themselves to the betterment of not only LGBTQ individuals but marginalized communities across the city and state.

They included state Rep. Greg Harris, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, senator and 2018 Gubernatorial candidate Daniel Biss, 40th Ward Ald. Patrick O'Connor, 48th Ward Ald. Harry Osterman, 46th Ward Ald. James Cappleman and Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia.

Center on Halsted Chief Operating Officer Kim Fountain, Equality Illinois CEO Brian C. Johnson, national activist and author Candace Gingrich and the inspired young founder of Ava's Change4Youth, 12-year-old Ava Santos-Volpe, rounded out the list of speakers.

Santos-Volpe described her program, a project of Pride Action Tank, which personalizes parking meters across the city with the help of celebrated local artists. They will be used as donation stations with the proceeds going fight youth homelessness. She received a prolonged and well-deserved ovation.

As a living testament to its future, Santos-Volpe was the denouement to a single day which may have emerged from tragedy and peril both political and social but declared that the power of the LGBTQ movement keeps growing in voice and numbers and has begun to surge against the gates of intolerance and hatred. Activists hope that it will only be a matter of time before those gates are demolished once and for all.

The Equality Rally was sponsored by Women and Children First, Windy City Times, Ald. Patrick O'Connor, Hamburger Mary's, Vincent Chicago, the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce, the Rogers Park Montessori School, LGBTQ Impact and the Andersonville Farmer's Market, in addition to more than 20 community partners.

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