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One Year After Pulse Shooting, Boystown Remembers Victims 'With Action'

By Ariel Cheung | June 13, 2017 8:53am
 The Center on Halsted hosted a vigil Monday to honor the victims killed in the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando one year ago, June 12, 2016.
Boystown Marks One Year After Pulse Shooting
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BOYSTOWN — Joanna Thompson kept her composure up until she had to read the names of the 49 people murdered in an Orlando nightclub one year ago.

Each name was followed by the toll of a bell, and as Thompson made her way down the list, her voice cracked with emotion on 19-year-old Jason Benjamin Josephat.

"You're reading them and you realize, 'I'm only halfway done, I still have 20-something names left,'" said Thompson, the community outreach and engagement coordinator at Center on Halsted. "It was just too much. And it was almost like I wanted to stop. These are too many names."

Just as they did last year, Chicago's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities gathered at the Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted St., to honor those who died and were wounded in the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11.

And this year, as wounds continue to heal, the vigil's goal was to honor them with action.

"At a moment when some sought to meet fear with fear and hate with hate, we saw the community pull together across their differences, united in their commitment to challenge vitriol and hatred," Thompson said.

The ceremony Monday evening was more brief than last year's, when the horrific massacre brought even Mayor Rahm Emanuel to the center to mourn with the LGBTQ community. 

Although a smaller crowd of about a hundred people gathered inside the center's theater, another hundred filled the lobby outside.

Together, they shared thoughts of the victims and spoke on how the attack sent shock waves through the LGBTQ community.

"I have the image in my mind of someone like me getting dressed to step out, spending most of the night building up courage to ask someone they like to dance," said David Guana, a member of the Association of Latinos/as Motivating Action. "The image of someone like me dancing with another guy, laughing and wondering when you can slip in a kiss, feeling happy because something in that moment feels good, feels right, only to be taken away by the sound of gunshots."

It's a painful thing to imagine "someone like myself in a space that, once upon a time, might have been the safest place you could be, now shattered with blood and hate," Guana said.

It "cannot be ignored" that 90 percent of the victims killed were of Latin descent, as Pulse nightclub hosted its Latin night, Guana said. Queer people of color are continuously at a heightened risk for violence and hate crimes.

"It was Latin night I loved the most at gay clubs, because that was where I made the most connections," Guana said.

Toward the end of the vigil, the Windy City Gay Chorus and the Windy City Treble Quire joined together to sing a rendition of Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors," which will be part of their June 17 Pulse concert.

For members of the chorus, working together on the concert was a way to heal as well.

"This group is an amazing rock for me," said Stephanie Norwood, 36. "This is a group of talented, smart, powerful people that have my back, and that's been very healing."