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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Hundreds of Chicagoans honor Orlando shooting victims
Video below article
by Matt Simonette
2016-06-12

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About 300 Chicagoans gathered in Lakeview at the corner of Halsted and Roscoe June 12, in memory of victims of the mass shooting at an Orlando LGBT nightclub early that morning that left 50 dead and more than 50 wounded.

Speakers addressed a number of issues that the Florida massacre—the largest mass shooting in U.S. history—touched upon, from gun control to ethnic and religious tolerance, but nearly all urged for love, peace and respect as the LGBT community moves forward in the weeks ahead.

A second rally was held concurrently in Andersonville, where Midsommarfest was being celebrated, and attended by many LGBT Chicagoans and visitors.

Dawn Valenti, a lesbian crisis responder from Chicago Survivors, a group that deals with families in the aftermath homicides, hosted the Lakeview rally, and called the Florida shooting a "double-punch in the stomach for me, so I couldn't sit by idly."

Valenti added, "It's important for me, and this city, and our state, to send out love, and our prayers to those families who are still looking for their loved ones, [and] families who still don't know if their loved one was in that nightclub, and if that loved one made it out."

Among the speakers was performer and make-up artist David Sotomayor, also known as Jade Sotomayor, whose cousin Edward Sotomayor was among the Orlando victims.

"I'm pretty sad tonight, and overwhelmed, and happy to know that there is a community out there that cares about all this tragedy that happens," he said.

"I cannot even understand why this would happen—this man was amazing," Sotomayor added. "He treated all of us so well. Anything you did, he had a smile on his face. I haven't met a person who said they had been upset with him. This morning I woke up to find out that though fans of mine that my cousin had passed in this shooting. … This needs to stop. We need to make sure that we know that we are here and that we are strong."

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said, "It was important for me to come out tonight to say that CPD stands for everybody in Chicago. This was just another example of how gun violence affects everyone in the country at some point in time."

Johnson said that CPD had increased patrols in the neighborhood as well as at other special events in other parts of the city. "I've also been in communication with the folks in Orlando to offer them assistance—I think it's only fitting that we think that we think about them, and what we're going through, even if we have our challenges in the city," he said.

Commissioner Mona Noriega of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations said, "We must, as a community, stand together and not let falsehoods divide us. We must not let others lie to us about who the true enemy is. We must stand together in unity. We are a community that stands united."

Among the elected officials in attendance were state Reps. Greg Harris and Kelly Cassidy, and Alds. Deb Mell, James Cappleman, Raymond Lopez and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa.

Cappleman said, "This was an an act, [wherein] the whole purpose of was to intimidate us. We have had people try to intimidate us before. It didn't work before and it's not working now. … They win if we succumb to hate. We are a people gathered together, united in peace and love. The Pride Parade will be coming in a couple of weeks. We are going to be marching in peace and love. We are going to show these haters that they are not going to win, because love always wins."

The speakers were flanked by a number of families whose children have fallen victim to gun violence. "They were all innocent children, gunned down in the city of Chicago," said Valenti.

Cassidy said, "I'm particularly humbled to be joined by the families of the victims who join with us today. We need to be in their neighborhoods when the shootings happen too. We need vigils of this size on the South Side and the West Side and north of Howard every time we lose a life. All of us together are a hundred times bigger than the National Rifle Association."

She added that when she's carried gun-control bills, "I have gotten some of the most heinous hate-mail I have ever seen as a result of my work to take guns out of our neighborhoods. I don't want to take guns out of the hands of law-abiding gun owners and I dare those law-abiding gun owners to join us here today for reasonable, thoughtful changes to our gun laws that don't allow ammunition that is specifically designed to cause maximum tissue damage to come into the hands of a madman in a bar in Orlando. … I welcome you all to this fight, and together we can win."

Fighting back tears, Harris said, "To see the moms back here, they know [what it's like] to turn on the TV and watch moms standing there wondering if their child was going to come back from that club, or if their child was one of those who was going to be carried out of that club later. We've seen young people carried out of a church in Charleston. We've seen people carried out of a Christmas party in San Bernardino. … We have to take away the assault weapons, the body armor, the high-capacity ammunition clips, the things that have no place in our city streets and our society. And we can't let those who want to divide us for political purposes [be successful]. We have to stand together, gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish. We must all stand together and say enough is enough. These are our streets. This is our community. This is our freedom."

Colleen Daley of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, said, "This is a hate crime specifically targeted against this community. Officials are obviously investigating this event to find out more about the shooter, to find out whey this happened.

"This is happening way too much on our country. Last summer, it was a church in Charleston. Last fall, it was Planned Parenthood. And last night, a gay bar in Orlando. … A connecting element in all of this is hate and guns. It's far too easy for people to get their hands on guns in our country and we must do something about it. We must stand together and say, 'Enough is enough.' … While me mourn today, we also have to commit to take action. We must hold Congress and our legislators accountable. They shouldn't have assault weapons. This shouldn't be happening. We as a country are better than this."

Eboo Patel, president of Interfaith Youth Core, a nonprofit promting interfaith cooperation and dialogue, said, "It is said that classical Muslim scholars would teach their students, [that] if you are merciful on Earth, the one in Heaven will be merciful to you. Mercy in Islam is not about lukewarm tolerance. Mercy in Islam is about friendship. It is about solidarity. It is about love. It is in that spirit that I come here today—not to say, 'Please don't hate people who pray in Arabic like me,' but primarily to say, 'I owe so much to you, to my friends who are gay, to my teachers who are gay, to my colleagues at Interfaith Youth Core who are gay.' Everybody here is smart enough to know that extremists of all traditions belong to only one tradition—the tradition of extremism.

"I am here to tell you also, that there is great insight in the work of Dante. Anyone sitting on the fence today needs to hear this: The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of moral crisis maintain their neutrality. Today I will not. … Part of who I am, part of the joy and life that I have experienced, part of my own pride as an American, as an Indian, as a Muslim, come from my relationships, my friendships, my learnings from you, and I grieve with you and I hurt with you. And I will move forward with you, because in the words of the great gay writer Tony Kushner … as he ends Angels in America with: "'That there is more life, the great work begins.'"

Bishop James Wilkowski of Evangelical Catholic Diocese of the Northeast remembered gathering at the same spot for a 1998 vigil in memory of Matthew Shepard.

"Some of us here are old enough to remember, and I see so many young faces that, to many of us, the name Matthew Shepard is more historical than anything," he said. "But on both occasions we gathered here because we needed to deal with our hurt, frustration and anger, and wondering how we as a national family could begin to deal with with problems of hatred and bigotry. But we've grown wiser over the years, and we know we cannot blame a person's religion, ethnicity or culture for the acts that happened this morning."

Wilkowski urged the audience to commit themselves to ending bigotry, which he said was a "step forward in the healing process."

Holding a pride flag aloft, Wilkowski said, "When I was growing up, this flag had a very limited meaning. This flag has a much more profound meaning. It tells us that we are here because of God's love, and as someone once said a couple of years ago, If God didn't want us, he wouldn't have created us. Let this be a symbol to our mutual commitment to the entire community, to our nation. When we do that, we will see peace in our time."

Andy Thayer of Gay Liberation Network recalled being at the Matthew Shepard rally of which Wilkowski spoke.

"We had a message: That an attack on one of us was an attack on all of us," Thayer said. "We are a rainbow community, and we recently celebrated the passage of pro-LGBT legislation due to the efforts not just of ourselves but of so many non-LGBT people speaking out for us. We cannot multiply the hate that we saw at 2 a.m. this morning by scapegoating Muslims or people of other faiths. I have many gay Muslim friends who are today very conflicted because they experience the racism from with in the LGBT community and they catch [hate] from some of their co-religionists as well. So it is up to us to make the first stand in solidarity with any group that is standing up to hate.

"We live in a country where a leading presidential candidate is banking on anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant hate to reach the White House, so we LGBT people, who stand for justice for all, must stand for Muslims, for South Asians, for anyone who is targeted for hate and not just ourselves," he added.

Maria Pike Davis, whose son Ricky was shot in 2012, said it was hypocrisy when political leaders said "their thoughts and prayers were with the families" of gun-violence victims.

"We know that the Congress is going to have a moment of silence in honor of those 50 victims," she added. "You know what? Our prayers are not reaching those who are silent. Their silence is what is killing us. Legislators must take action. Otherwise we must vote and we must take them out of office."

Chicagoans Milagro and Rafael Burgos spoke and attended the rally on behalf of their late daughter Alexandria, who was killed in October, 2014.

"My daughter was a victim to gun violence," Milagro told Windy City Times. "A stray bullet killed her."

The couple said that it was important for survivors of gun violence to show up and support, and speak out on behalf of other victims. "We're their voice. … We have to fight for the rights of our family members," said Milagro.

Rev. Dr. Dawnn Pirani Brumfield of Lighthouse Church of Chicago spoke the closing prayer at the rally.

Related coverage at the links:

http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/At-least-50-killed-in-Orlando-mass-shooting-at-LGBT-bar-/55504.html.

www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Obamas-remarks-Monday-on-June-12-attack-on-Orlando-LGBT-bar-/55514.html .

www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/City-of-Orlando-begins-to-release-victim-names-/55515.html .





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