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Hundreds at Center on Halsted vigil for Orlando
by Matt Simonette

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel, along with Chicago politicians, clergy, activists and artists, were among those who, on June 13, spoke at a vigil at Center on Halsted in remembrance of those killed and wounded in the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in the early morning of June 12.

The event was one of several that evening in the Chicago area; other vigils took place in Logan Square and Beverly.

More than 500 attended the Lakeview gathering, which filled the Center's lobby and spilled out onto Halsted Street and Waveland; the block was closed for the occasion and the overflow crowd listened to the vigil through giant speakers. Some protesters against Emanuel and his police department also were in attendance outside.

The Center's CEO, Modesto Tico Valle, introduced the vigil and explained that the purple ribbons that many wore were symbols of anti-violence, and invited guests to sign a large banner. Commissioner Mona Noriega of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations introduced the speakers.

Former state Sen. Carol Ronen read a statement from presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The letter said, "While I regret that I could not be with you tonight, please know that I am with you in spirit as you gather at the Center on Halsted to honor the victims of the attack in Orlando, their families and first responders who did everything they could to save lives. … To all of you in the LGBT community, please know that you have millions of allies across the country. I am one of them. We will keep fighting for your rights in the future, freely, openly and without fear. Hate has absolutely no place in America."

Rev. Joy Douglas Strome of Lakeview Presbyterian Church led a prayer for peace, while 103 candles were lit throughout the Center's lobby, representing 50 dead and 53 injured.

Alds. Tom Tunney and Raymond Lopez spoke as well. Lopez reminded the audience that the Orlando shootings were a "double hate-crime," since so many of the victims were Latino LGBTs.

"To my Latino brothers and sisters, not only in Orlando, but in Chicago and throughout the entire country, let me remind you not to let our culture fall prey to this hatred," Lopez said. "Our culture is built on faith and family, compassion and caring, and no amount of bullets, no amount of hateful words, and no amount of bigotry will ever set our community—our heritage—backwards."

Emanuel added, "Let the entire city in this month of gay pride come together as one city around a shared common sense of tolerance and inclusion. Where everybody is comfortable. Everybody has something to contribute. … Our power is to respond to what happened with hope, by showing the entire country a sense of what a community that comes together shares, a common set of values and a common sense of who we are. Do not leave room for hate. Open our hearts for love."

Poet Staceyann Chin, in town from New York to perform her one-woman show MotherStruck, invigorated the crowd with a piece that touched on intersectional identities and violence, among numerous issues, and called on the audience to maintain their resolve and fortitude during the upcoming Pride celebration. She said, "If there ever was a year to raise that rainbow flag high, this is it. … This is a good year to celebrate pride, even if you are 'so over it.' Even if you haven't done it in ages."

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle reflected, "Sadly, this will not be the last attack on our fellow Americans here at home, but those who contemplate future attacks should know that the violence that they perpetrate only deepens our resolve to fight the hatred and intolerance that terrorism represents."

Sol Flores, executive director of La Casa Norte, which provides services for youth experiencing homelessness, and Terry, who takes part in the Center's Youth Program (and whose last name was not given), reminded the audience that most of the victims in Orlando were young people in their 20s and 30s.

"When I started this work, I vowed to make sure that every corner of this city was safe for young people to be their best and true selves, from Humboldt Park to Lake View, from Back of the Yards to Roger Park," said Flores.

Terry vowed that, though the incident taught that anti-gay hate is real and palpable, the Orlando shootings would not take away what "so many have fought for before. … We must not let this be our downfall. We are here. We stand with you. We will not be divided."

Actor Fawzia Mirza said that she was coming out to the audience as a Muslim "so you know that Muslims are also family, and that the person who committed this act of hate in Orlando was not one of us. He was an extremist and was not family. … Let us transcend the noise. Let us transcend the other groups—the other voices, the politicians, the hate speech—who want to use this tragedy for their own agendas."

Abdul-Malik Ryan, assistant director, religious diversity and loop ministry at DePaul University, added, "We can never forget about the LGBT community among Muslims, which is often invisible." He said that many in the public become numb to endless death or crime statistics, and asked, "What changed to bring out this sorrow and compassion? It's the love, the love that people have talked about. When you love someone, that's when you realize that that person is a whole world in themselves."

James Bennett, midwest regional manager of Lambda Legal, warned that callous political leaders who legislate against the LGBT community create a space in which violence becomes acceptable for unstable people.

"The tragedy at Pulse was a graphic reminder what homophobia and transphobia does when it is out there on this horrific scale," Bennett said. "I do not believe there is a place for hate, but I do believe there is a place for righteous anger."

Myles Brady of Howard Brown Health said, "It should not take a massacre to call for attention and take some action. In our community, homeless youth, trans women, people of color, people with HIV and undocumented folks are literally being killed every day. Let this tragedy be your wakeup call. What are you going to do? I hope it's not just changing your Facebook profile to say, 'I stand with Orlando.'"

Rabbi Shoshanah Conover of Temple Sholom concluded the vigil. "We must commit to building this world on love," Conover said, calling on all the other speakers—and the audience—to join in. "Help us to build this world on love." She then had Temple Sholom's cantorial soloist, Laurie Akers, lead the audience in song.

The vigil also featured Korey White of Windy City Performing Arts, who sang "Amazing Grace," and violist Davis Butner of Lakeside Pride Music Ensembles. Windy City Performing Arts members led the crowd in "We Shall Overcome" at the end of the evening.

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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