‘Solidarity trumps bigotry’ at Boystown’s Orlando shooting vigil


Alexander Aghayere

‘Solidarity trumps bigotry’ at Boystown’s Orlando shooting vigil

By Campus Reporter

David Sotomayor—better known as Jade Sotomayor, a contestant from season one of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”—met his cousin Edward Sotomayor almost a decade ago, after his time on the show ended.

The morning of June 12, he woke up to find out his cousin was one of the 49 victims of the Orlando, Florida shooting—the most deadly mass shooting by a lone gunman in American history.

“[When we met,] I told him I did not know much of my family, and he said ‘Well, you already have a cousin,’” David Sotomayor said.

Sotomayor and others, including leaders of politics, religion and LGBT issues, attended a June 12 evening vigil at Halsted and Roscoe Streets in Boystown, Chicago’s prominent LGBT neighborhood,  to honor the lives of the 49 killed and 53 injured when gunman Omar Mateen entered Pulse, a gay nightclub, and fired relentlessly at the crowd.

David Sotomayor, who was not scheduled to speak but felt moved to do so as the vigil commenced, said his cousin Edward worked as a recruiter for a gay cruise company in Florida where he lived.  Sotomayor described his cousin as friendly, supportive and someone who was always wearing a smile on his face.

“I am not the only one who lost someone,” Sotomayor said. “To know that the community is here and strong, to be together [and] to do something different makes me really proud.”

The crowd  of more than 300 carried signs reading “Chicago Stands with Orlando,” “Respect” and “Solidarity Trumps Bigotry” along with rainbow flags.

Mourners gathered around a make-shift altar  full of flowers, candles and a message reading “We are a community and are affected as such. Thoughts, prayers and love to our Orlando brothers and sisters.”

Some also silently sang, “we are gently angry people and we are singing for our lives,” an excerpt from a Holly Near song.

Those who did not kneel to place flowers or other offerings on the altar silently stared at it, while others bowed their heads as a sign of respect and empathy.

Chicago Police Department’s  newly-appointed interim Superintendent Eddie Johnson said the Orlando shooting was another example of how gun violence affects everyone across the nation, adding that he has now increased the number of patrols around Boystown neighborhood and in special events across the city. Chicago’s Pride Fest is being held June 18 with the annual Pride Parade in Boystown the following weekend on June 26.

“Let’s keep our thoughts and prayers with the people of Orlando as we struggle with the challenges in the city,” Johnson said.

Bishop James A. Wilkowski from the Evangelical Catholic Diocese of the Northwest told The Chronicle he felt “sad, exhausted and infuriated” about the shooting. Wilkowski also said he is concerned the event will encourage an attitude of pointing fingers at other religions.

“I hope for the rest of the world that no matter what people do to tear us apart, we will keep together,” Wilkowski said. “I hope this gathering will indeed be the first positive step towards national healing.”

Among the crowd of supporters and mourners showing solidarity with the LGBT community, Kyle Shiver-Simpson, a counseling student at Chicago School of Professional Psychology, stood beside his husband Jason Shiver-Simpson, a Chicago area chef.

Jason Shiver-Simpson told The Chronicle that two of his friends were inside Pulse nightclub at the time of the shooting, but made it out uninjured.

“Being gay and part of the community, it kind of hits home,” Kyle Shiver-Simpson said. He added they attended the vigil to show solidarity and support the message that the gay community is not scared to speak out following tragedy.

Dawn Valenti, a crisis respondent of the City of Chicago, said that as a part of the gay community and someone in charge of guiding families in the aftermath of a homicide, she felt like the shooting was a double punch in the stomach for her.

“This is a very peaceful community,” Valenti said. “We do not come from a community of hate. This is not what we do. We are standing here in love and not in anger—in love.”

Political leaders—including city aldermen James Cappelman (46th) and Deb Mell (33rd), several state representatives and executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence Colleen Daley—also attended the event.

Daley attributed hate and guns to the Orlando shootings and other recent national shootings in Charleston and San Bernardino.

“It is far too easy for people to get their hands on guns in our country, and we must do something about it…” Daley said. “Too many lives have been lost in our country and while we mourn today, we also have to commit to take action, to hold our legislators accountable [and] to hold Congress accountable.”

State Representative Kelly Cassidy also said poor gun control laws was the cause of these mass shootings.

“I dare those law-abiding [gun] owners to join us here today for reasonable thoughtful changes to our gun laws that do not allow ammunition specifically designed to cause maximum tissue damage to come into the hands of a mad man in a bar in Orlando,” Cassidy said.

After asking the crowd to fight against bigotry and hate,  Bishop Wilkowski’s requested to borrow an LGBT flag during his speech and committed to be a “pain in the ass” in Springfield to fight against censorship.

“When I was growing up, this flag had a very limited meaning,” Wilkowski said as people cheered and clapped. “This flag has a much more profound meaning. Let this be a symbol of our mutual commitment to the entire community and to our nation. When we do that, we will see peace in our time.”