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This LGBT Poet Stunned A Packed Room With Her Thoughts On Orlando Shooting

By Ariel Cheung | June 14, 2016 6:26am
 Spoken-word poet Staceyann Chin roused an emotional crowd with her speech during Center on Halsted's #WeAreOrlando vigil Monday evening.
Spoken-word poet Staceyann Chin roused an emotional crowd with her speech during Center on Halsted's #WeAreOrlando vigil Monday evening.
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DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung

BOYSTOWN — One voice rang through the Center on Halsted Monday, moving some to tears while others applauded her call to action.

Poet Staceyann Chin declared 2016 "a good year to be out, to be proud," and called on fellow members of the LGBT community to stand with victims of a horrific attack at a gay night club in Orlando.

WATCH THE FULL VIDEO AND READ THE TRANSCRIPT BELOW.

The worst mass shooting in modern American history left 50 people dead — including the shooter — and another 53 wounded, and Chicago's gay community gathered at the Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted St., to remember them Monday evening.

While Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Alds. Tom Tunney (44th) and Raymond Lopez (15th) spoke alongside community activists and clergy, it was Chin's 10-minute speech that struck crowd members strongest.

The 42-year-old lesbian was born in Jamaica but moved to New York City in 1997. She began her poem reflecting on the progress made in 20 years toward equal rights for gay people, from marriage equality to anti-discrimination laws.

But until Sunday's shooting, "gun violence has never been part and parcel of the LGBT agenda," Chin said. "But when the unthinkable news of this lone gunman's actions rippled across the airwaves ... we were shaken from our complacency."

Moving forward, Chin called on the community to find comfort in one another and "revel in the unfaltering ability to be human, to hold each other, to heal each other."

She also echoed calls from others to make this year's Chicago Pride Parade a celebration of healing.

"If ever there was a year to wave that rainbow flag, this is it," she said.

Below is a video of her spoken-word poem and the speech in its entirety.

In 1997, I came to the shores of these United States of America because it wasn’t safe for me to live as an out lesbian in my own country, Jamaica.

I remember landing alone, uncertain, in a tiny city called New York City. Within weeks, I fell into the arms of other feminists and activists and other LGBT people who believed in the global fight for freedom. It was here, in this country, I learned to use my words, my voice, to speak out against bigotry and prejudice and injustice and discrimination wherever it happens, whenever it happens, to whomever it happens.

I can hardly believe it’s been 20 years. So much has happened in the wake of our collective struggle, LGBT people in more and more countries can now marry the love of our choosing. We can openly hold a public office, hold hands, adopt children. We are more secure in our jobs. Many of us are completely accepted by our communities.

So effective has been our march toward progress, so steady has been our faith in the power of change, that we were just a little bit amused when the radical right began its new wave of shenanigans in Mississippi and North Carolina and Tennessee. We were certain good sense would prevail in this country. We were sure the world was changing faster, and we knew we would eventually win.

Gun violence has never been part and parcel of the LGBT agenda. Semi-automatic weapons were never ours to argue. Even after our president, our first black president, begged the nation —13 times after 13 mass shootings — after he begged us 13 times to address this issue of gun control, as a group, it never became our fight.

But when the unthinkable news of this lone gunman’s actions rippled across the airwaves, when in this, the 14th shooting since 2008, when almost 50 us — 50 of us — 50 of us became the target of one such weapon (it’s really 100 more of us became the target of one such weapon), we were shaken from our complacency, jolted from our rooted revelry, shocked to watch the deliberate marching back of progress.

After 20 years of safety, my lesbian body is awake to the terror of what black body, my woman body, my immigrant body, has always known. These barbaric ideologies are only getting bolder and bolder by the proverbial hour, as a whole.

As a whole person I have never been more aware of how race and class and religion and sexuality and hate can converge into some bizarre concoction of violence and rage and prejudice and the vulnerable target of an unsuspecting crowd.

These young men in a dance club, in a dance club in Orlando, were simply looking for a space to love and live and be safe and be celebrated inside the borders of a country whose history whispers the tradition: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

We are all just yearning to breathe free, in public or private. I have always wanted to follow my own heart. I imagine that’s what they wanted, too, these young people. That’s all they wanted: To be true to the drum-beating human inside their own chests.

Their deaths will always be remembered as senseless. In the horror of their quiet breaths, let us begin the celebration of their lives by acknowledging that these words are never enough.

No matter what say here today, it will never be enough to tell the story of their deaths or their lives. Always, there’s always more to say about the departed. These young people whose lives will eventually become fodder for political blathers and ideological arguments. These bodies laying still, not dancing not smiling, will join the too long list of these victims of mass shootings that happen in American. Too often, this happens in America. Too often, it has been happening in America to the most vulnerable among us.

The most vulnerable among us pay the greatest price, and the rest of us are left to ask the question again and again and again, “Where, where, where does this healing begin?”

In the face of 49 lives snuffed out, how do we make sense of such a senseless thing? The answer — the answer is what it has always been.

We pick up the pieces of each other. As always, we turn left, we turn right, we reach behind us and we find each other, and we continue to find love. Against these crazy odds, we should revel in the unfaltering ability to be human, to hold each other, to heal each other. In sorrow we should weep and smile and celebrate the fact of our own breathing.

If there was ever a year to wave that rainbow flag — if there was ever a year to wave that rainbow flag — this is it.

(Applause)

This is it. This is a good year to celebrate Pride. Even if you have been so over it. This is a good year to be out, to be proud.

This —

(Applause)

This is the cornerstone of every mark of progress, and our community has always been committed to progress.

So today — regardless of those who revel in this — today is no different from yesterday or tomorrow. All through the month of June, all through the years we have left to live, I dare you.

I dare you LGBTABCDQ alphabet soup, I dare you to find your flag. Find your rainbow. Find your loud. Wave your freedom proud.

I dare you to speak your feelings of pride, of solidarity. I dare you from this moment to live who you are, for these 49, for North Carolina, for yourselves, for Orlando, for (indiscernible) —

(Applause)

For Stonewall and for Selma, for the LGBT community I left 20 years ago in Jamaica. For Kenya, for Uganda, for this country, for all of us. In order to heal, for every person living on this planet, we have to fight the fury of those who would rather see us dead. Let us rack against the powers that push against freedom, let us rage. Let us rally.

(Applause)

Let us rally against the powers that push against freedom. Let us rage, but let us also lobby for change in these gun laws and in discrimination laws.

Let us fight for more spaces where all our bodies can be safe. Let us push against unjust laws that seek to turn back the hands of time.

In memory of these nearly 50 dead, I dare you to live even louder, to be even more proud of who you are. Let us together lift our voices, our spirits. Let us shout out so everybody on this planet can hear the awesome power of the human heart.

To choose love. To choose love. I dare you to choose love.

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