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Disarm event takes first, unified steps in ending gun violence
Video below article
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond
2016-10-23

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It was a haunting rendition of Andra Day's "Rise Up" performed by Victor Valencia which set the tone for the LGBTQ Town Hall Disarm Gun Violence Oct. 20 at the Ebenezer Lutheran Church in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood.

More than 120 attended the event, which took place on the second anniversary of the death of Laquan McDonald, slain by Chicago Police Department ( CPD ) officer Jason Van Dyke, and four months after the murder of 49 people on Latinx night at the Pulse LGBTQ bar in Orlando.

Even though the issue of gun violence has affected the LGBTQ community for decades, the massacre at Pulse June 12 galvanized the movement in Chicago. Two months ago, the first steps were made in building a coalition needed to take the kind of decisive action which led to historic LGBTQ civil-rights victories after 1969.

In order to stand up to the lobbying power and often intimidating tactics utilized by the National Rifle Association ( NRA ), organizers said it is essential that the coalition be just as formidable and equally aggressive.

The coalition partners for the Oct. 20 event—put together by Chicago Survivors, Pride Action Tank and Windy City Times—included Illinois gun violence prevention organizations including The Brady Campaign, G-PAC, Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, Organizing for Action and People for Safer Society, plus a large list of LGBTQ advocacy and activist groups, plus allied community organizations: Affinity Community Services, AIDS Foundation of Chicago, ALMA: Association of Latino/as Motivating Action, Broadway Youth Center of HBH, BUILD ( Broader Urban Involvement & Leadership Development ), Center on Halsted, Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus, Chicago Coalition of Welcoming Churches, Chicago House, Commission on Human Relations, Dignity Chicago, Equality Illinois, Erie Neighborhood House, Gays Against Guns Chicago, Heartland Alliance, Howard Brown Health, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, La Casa Norte, Lambda Legal, Lighthouse Church of Chicago, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National LGBTQ Task Force, Northbrook United Methodist Church, Northalsted Business Alliance, Or Chadash, Pillars Fund, Pride Action Tank, Puerto Rican Arts Alliance, Puerto Rican Cultural Center, Temple Sholom's Social Justice, Thresholds, TransTech and United Latino Pride.

For the first public step, Disarm Gun Violence brought together a packed audience of people representing the entire LGBTQ and allied spectrum of all races and economic backgrounds who were unified in the purpose of clearly defining the problem of gun violence and in a pledge to take immediate action in order to end it.

"Today, let us be educated, motivated and activated as we hear about the ways in which the LGBT and gun violence prevention communities not only intersect but share a common goal," Chicago Survivors founder Joy McCormack said. "Let us impact this human-rights epidemic by understanding two realities; that the hate and discrimination against LGBTQ people is lethal and [that] we live in a country where guns are too easily accessed without sufficient accountability and safety measures."

McCormack recalled her 21-year-old son Frankie, "At the prime of his life, looking forward to all of the wonders. He was very active in social services around Chicago and he was nominated to intern at the White House," she said. "On Oct. 31, 2009, Frankie went to a Halloween party. Twenty minutes after arriving, he was standing in front of the house and gangbangers came by with a TEC-9 semi-automatic weapon. They opened fire. This was a gun bought illegally for $300. That's all it took and our son was gone."

"Where was Frankie's right to life?" She asked. "Where was his right to choose to be here? We have to remind ourselves that this is a human-rights issue. This is a civil-rights issue."

"What we want to do is make sure that any work that happens is not redundant but amplifies the work that's already begun in Chicago and Illinois," Windy City Times Publisher and Executive Editor Tracy Baim asserted.

In order for people to understand the scope of the problem, Pride Action Tank Executive Director Kim Hunt moderated a panel that included Latinx advocate and Gay and Lesbian Hall Of Fame alumnus Emmanuel Garcia, attorney and Muslim LGBTQ advocate Dr. Nabeela Rasheed, Ph.D., Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence Campaign Manager John Gruber and G-PAC Executive Director Kathleen Sances.

Gruber noted that the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act which requires background checks for those purchasing weapons at federally licensed dealers does not apply to internet transactions, or private transfers at a gun show.

"In some states like [neighboring] Indiana, I can go to a gun show or I can meet up with someone online who can sell me a gun no questions asked," he said. "Some states [like Illinois] have closed the [gun show] loophole but the approximate average is that 40 percent of all gun sales in America go without a background check. If you look at the gun violence all over the city [of Chicago], you're seeing a lot of guns come from out of state."

Gruber also pinpointed Illinois gun dealers who are not effectively regulated. One of the most prolific is Chuck's Gun Shop & Pistol Range in Riverdale, Illinois—a community which is 94 percent Black.

"Chuck's is owned by a very affluent white guy who lives in the South Suburbs," Gruber said. "Over the course of four years, Chuck's Guns supplied one in 12 of the guns used on the streets of Chicago. It is one of the leading sellers of NRA memberships in the United States."

"We need action at the federal level," he said. "But, until we have some commitment either by a Republican Congress or at a federal level, we're not going to get a lot done stopping the flow of guns into Illinois."

He suggested that regulation occur at a state level.

To that end, Sances emphasized the importance of voting in the Nov. 8 election.

"At the top of the ticket, we have someone [Donald Trump] proud to be endorsed by the NRA," she said. "[They] have pumped unprecedented millions of dollars into his campaign. He promises that, if he becomes president, he will get rid of all gun-free zones and put us all in danger all of the time. [Hillary Clinton] has made gun violence prevention one of her main issues. It's something we've been waiting for because the loss of life has been devastating in every state."

Sances added that voters needed to address gun violence both up and down the ballot.

"[G-PAC] has a voter guide," she said. "If you don't see your state representative or state senator on that list, it's because they chose not to participate and get on record that they support safety measures. So don't vote for them. This is our go time. We have to protect the people that we already know are going to support life-saving policies and we have five opportunities to get votes in both houses to get us to a gun-sense majority."

Garcia noted the 56 transgender and gender nonconforming people murdered in the last three years in this country. In 2016 alone, the number of individuals slain stands at 23.

"Our community has carried that pain while also fighting against the transphobia that exists," Garcia added. "Some people have been murdered through guns and we haven't seemed to mobilize around that issue. When you talk to different people of color, our communities are experiencing interpersonal and systemic violence through poverty and [lack of] education."

Despite attempts, following Orlando, to drive a wedge between the Islamic and LGBTQ communities Rasheed recalled meetings designed to bring organizations and people into a defiant unity called The TRUST Collective with a mission to consistently support each other particularly following a tragedy.

Director of Urban Education and Community Partnerships at DePaul University's Steans Center for Community-Based Service Learning John Zeigler received such support in passionate applause after he recalled the life of his friend Mbiganyi Lashani who was murdered on Chicago's South Side July 29, 2016.

"[M.B.] became such a vital part of working with young people," Zeigler said. "The kids loved him. My family loved him. I look at him as an ancestor. There's a small community that has begun to put up leaflets around [South Peoria Street] searching for his murderer."

Suicide is a tragedy that dramatically impacts the LGBTQ community, particularly its youth where it is the leading cause of death.

Gruber addressed the more than 20,000 gun suicides in the United States each year ( 50 every day ) and the fact that those who attempt suicide with a gun have a higher than 50 percent mortality rate.

According to Gruber, prevention begins with safe storage in the home.

"We are not demonizing gun owners," he said. "What we are saying is that, if you're a parent and you really care about your kid and you happen to be a gun owner, make sure that gun is locked up."

Suicide has had a devastating effect on the transgender community.

Project Manager of the TransLife Center at Chicago House and advocate Channyn Lynne Parker asserted that, as a transgender woman of color, "My right to self-identify and to self-determine is undermined as I navigate what is a cis-hetero, oppressive, patriarchal society that violently polices my body."

"Working with trans women of color on a daily basis, I see the violence that is inflicted upon [them]," she added before telling the story of Eisha Love who was held for nearly four years without trial in the maximum security Division IX of the Cook County Jail for an act of self-defense.

Parker was also part of the final panel of the evening tasked with setting out an agenda where, as McCormack stated, "We're not just talking about the problem but we're actually focused on actions and solutions."

Moderated by McCormack, the panel included Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence ( ICHV ) Campaign Director Mark Walsh and anti-violence advocate Lisa Gilmore.

They were joined by Maria Pike, the mother of 24-year-old Ricky Pike who was gunned down in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood in August 2012. Maria is a member of the Moms Demand Action Survivor Network—an organization created following the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut and now has over three million members nationwide and growing.

Gilmore's suggestions included to "Challenge culture to decrease the vulnerability we experience as LGBTQ people."

"We need to address homelessness," Gilmore added. "Internal to our own LGBTQ communities and groups, we need to stop [rejecting] people, especially LGBTQ youth for being homeless and present in front of us. Choose to be together and to really see each other."

"One of the things I deal with in Springfield all the time is legislators who are scared beyond belief because they know that, every time a vote comes up that make sense, one that 90 percent of Americans support, they get 150 phone calls that say 'I will take you out of office,'" Walsh asserted. "So it's important that [state and federal] legislators hear from us."

"When my son was killed, I found out that the [killers] were involved with guns coming from out of state or places like Chuck's gun shop," Pike said. "I also found out that guns exacerbate the systemic issues that we have in our society. We have issues of poverty, education, lack of opportunities. Do acts of kindness every single day of your life because that makes us better as a society. Take a risk and go to places you have never been because you will be pleasantly surprised."

"Nothing stops a bullet like a job," Walsh said. "This is all of our problem and we all need to work together."

Parker similarly challenged the audience by suggesting that they "Stop relying on the media to define trans people."

"It's our responsibility to interrupt transphobia, violent language and behavior at all costs," she said. "Invest in trans people in real, tangible ways. Provide us actual spaces to thrive in life. I strongly urge that our trans women and men get out and vote. Through history I've noticed that movements begin in basements, in church or in living rooms. It's so imperative that young people create spaces of their own because [their] voices are powerful."

"Often times we think about an us-versus-them conversation," McCormack said. "We forget that the statistics we're seeing on Monday morning are us. This is our community, these are our families, this is our Chicago."

There could be no more devastating illustration of that sentiment than the testament provided by Cleopatra Pendleton, mother of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton who was gunned down while talking with friends in a Kenwood, Chicago park in January 2013.

"My heart aches, her father's heart aches, her grandma's heart aches, her brother's heart aches," Cleopatra said. "It doesn't end. We, the victims or survivors of violence, serve life sentences. There are so many lives that are taken and nobody knows who did it. We have a lot of things to consider when we elect officials. Gun violence might be at the top of that list. I've become a single-issue voter because I know what it feels like to be on this side of gun violence. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy."

Chicago Commission on Human Relations Commissioner Mona Noriega urged the audience to file complaints against any kind of discrimination, which she described as "Violence against all our communities."

"The TRUST Collective is so important because it centers the voices of communities we all recognize," she said. "All our lives, we've been getting our asses kicked. Now we are finally coming together to recognize the power of the community. We have to own it. It is upon us."

So it was that the community stood as one and, led by Chicago Survivors' crisis responder Dawn Valenti, the audience repeated a promise to reverberate in a politically cynical and indifferent world.

"Today was the first of many steps that we shall take together," Valenti said. "Today we promise to honor with more than prayers and sympathy [but] to honor united in action. We stand together united as one Chicago [that] calls for the freedom to walk in a park, raise our children, drive down the street, move our kids into dorm rooms and celebrate our identities with love and without fear."

Organizers plan to do additional educational and action events in other areas of the city.

The video playlist below contains multiple videos. Choose Playlist in the top left hand corner to watch videos out of order, if preferred.



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