BOYSTOWN — Local leaders and activists joined hundreds of LGBT Chicagoans and allies in Boystown Sunday evening for a massive outpouring of grief to honor the 50 people killed and 53 wounded at an Orlando night club earlier that morning.
News that the deadliest mass shooting in American history had taken place in a gay nightclub rocked LGBT communities across the country Sunday, including in Chicago.
The vigil, packed into a parking lot at the intersection of Halsted Street and Roscoe Street, had been organized by the Chicago-based Gay Liberation Network. But a megaphone was passed among a diverse lineup of activists, religious leaders and political officials.
Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson made a surprise appearance and spoke early in the event, promising to beef up patrols in Boystown and at special events across the city.
"We're here not only to support Orlando, but to support the community here, and to let you know we'll always be here for you," Johnson said.
Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson (DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin)
Rev. James Wilkowski, a Northwest Diocese bishop, held up a rainbow flag as he preached through the megaphone.
"This flag...tells us that we are here because of God's love. Let this be a symbol of our mutual commitment to the entire community, and to the nation," Wilkowski said. "So to our public officials here, please know that I'm going to be a pain in the ass in Springfield."
Wilkowski's speech gave way to political leaders like Ald. James Cappleman (44th) and State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Edgewater), who shouted out support to mothers of gun violence victims who had come to the vigil.
"We need to be in their neighborhoods when the shootings happen, too," Cassidy said, to roaring applause. "We need vigils of this size on the South Side and the West Side every time we lose a life."
"Because all of us together are 100 times bigger than the National Rifle Association," she continued. "I don't want to take guns out of the hands of law-abiding gun owners, and I dare those 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."
When it was time for Gay Liberation Network founder Andy Thayer to speak, the megaphone briefly stopped working. He didn't wait, instead raising his hands to his mouth and bellowing his message toward the other side of the street.
"When this square was dedicated to Matthew Shepard, we had a message: that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us," Thayer called to the crowd. "...As we go forward, my message to our community is that we will not multiply the hate we saw this morning by scapegoating Muslims or people of other faiths."
Through the crowd, friends and couples clung to one another and tearfully listened to each call of grief, indignation and solidarity. Among them were John Hernandez and David Tapia, standing arm-in-arm and shrouded in a rainbow flag.
"It's comforting how many people are out here showing support — it's good to know we're acknowledged," Hernandez said. "We want to send a message to the world is that the LGBT community is strong. And we're gonna survive this, just like we always have."
The Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted St., will hold its own vigil Monday night, a spokesman said.
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