A moment shared at the vigil in Oak Park's Scoville Park Wednesday evening. | Courtesy Bob Simpson

When she heard about the June 12 massacre at Pulse, the gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida where lone gunman Omar Mateen killed 49 people and injured at least 50 more, Rev. Lindsey Long Joyce said she sent a desperate text to her 25-year-old brother, who is gay and lives in Los Angeles.

“I said, ‘Are you OK? I love you. Be safe,'” recalled Joyce, who pastors St. John United Methodist Church in Oak Park.

“When I sent the text, I realized the ridiculousness of the request to be safe,” she said. “I could no more ask him to be bullet-proof. What I realized I was saying was, ‘I hope you are safe. I hope no one decides to take your life with an assault rifle while you dance with your friends.'”

Joyce spoke during a roughly hour-long vigil Wednesday evening before at least 200 people held at Scoville Park — a gesture of solidarity with the victims of the Orlando massacre and their families. Jim Kelly, an Oak Park resident and member of the Oak Park Area Gay and Lesbian Alliance (OPALGA), read the names of the 49 people murdered through suppressed sobs. There was also prayer and a moment of silence.

“We come together today because, no matter our faith, we know that in our pain it is better to be together than apart,” said Oak Park Temple’s Rabbi Max Weiss. “We must stand together against this type of hatred and violence.”

The June 15 event also served as a platform for local leaders to vigorously condemn what Tabassum Haleem, executive director of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, called a “barbaric assault.”

 “We unequivocally say that such an act of hate-fueled violence has no place in any faith, including Islam,” Haleem said. “As people of faith, we believe that all human beings have the right to safety and security, and that each and every human right is inviolable.”

Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, whose office hosted the event in partnership with the interfaith religious alliance Community of Congregations, called the Orlando shooting “an attack on humanity” and “on our rights to love and live free from fear.”

Among the crowd of unsheltered attendees bearing the 90-plus-degree heat of the early evening were local and state officials and representatives from community organizations like OPALGA.

“I know people who are afraid to hold hands with each other, who just want to give each other a spontaneous kiss, but they have to look around to be safe to do that,” said Jerry Snider Delaney, the Democratic Party of Oak Park committeewoman. “That should not be happening. We all say that love is love is love, but I’m not sure we really get it.”

Jennifer Nordstrom, the interim minister at Third Unitarian Church in Austin, recalled her own bouts of insecurity and fear growing up “in a factory town in Wisconsin where I was out at 16 years old and bullied and harassed.”

When she was 19 years old, Nordstrom recalled, she experienced her sense of jubilance on the National Mall in Washington D.C., during her first Gay pride celebration in 1999.

“In that moment, the fear, shame and grief I’d grown up with fell away,” she said. “I was held in the larger love of my community.”

Nordstrom, along with several other speakers, likened the Orlando nightclub to a “kind of sanctuary,” a place of safety for people often harassed for their sexual orientations and lifestyles.

Nordstrom and other clergy described Mateen’s act as a hate-filled reaction to the social and political progress made by the LGBTQ community.

“The way forward always is when [the interests of those] who are on the margins, who are overlooked are brought from the margins to the center [and become] central objects of our public policy. [When that happens], all of us flourish,” said Rev. Marshall Hatch, senior pastor of the New Mt. Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in West Garfield Park.

While the psychic and emotional dynamics leading to Mateen’s act were referenced by most of the evening’s speakers, the more explicit conversation about the political matter of gun laws, their absence or their laxity, happened before and after the prepared remarks.

Tonya Murray, a member of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, hung around after the ceremony ended to solicit signatures that she hopes will lead, albeit by increments, to some semblance of what she called “common-sense gun legislation.”

“We need to continue to buck what I consider the ‘National Rifle Sales Association,'” said Murray, of La Grange Park, who emphasized that she wasn’t “anti-gun.”

“It’s just that we want common-sense laws and Chicago is proof that they work because over 65 percent of the guns in those Chicago shootings are from out-of-town,” she said. “The majority are from Indiana. Illinois is proof that common-sense gun laws work because the guns aren’t from here. They’re coming from the states around us that don’t have common-sense gun laws.”

Oak Park state Sen. Don Harmon (39th), who is the sponsor of a bill that would impose greater regulations on gun dealers in Illinois, said there needs to be an “honest conversation about the consequences of the gun market we have here today.

“What you can’t argue is that somewhere between a gun manufacturer and a crime scene is someone masquerading as a law-abiding gun-owner who is not,” Harmon said. “If we were to focus on that weak link in the chain, we could have some success combating this epidemic of gun violence.”

Several attendees expressed optimism that the Orlando massacre, what many media outlets are calling the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, would be the one incident of mass murder — in a series of many that have happened in recent years — to be the catalyst to comprehensive, nationwide action.

Harmon referenced a bipartisan bill that passed both houses and is headed to the desk of Gov. Bruce Rauner, whom the senator noted is likely to sign it. If passed, the legislation would impose stiffer penalties on straw purchasers of guns who, although not legally allowed to purchase guns here, buy the weapons in other states and sell them in Illinois.

Murray said she was hopeful about the response the Orlando shooting has garnered from her Republican friends, whom she noted have created Facebook posts in support of taking some action to prevent such shootings from happening in the future.

“I read a letter that a woman Methodist minister sent out to her congregation saying that maybe her church needs to take some responsibility for this hatred and then a Catholic bishop sent one out saying the same thing,” said Delaney. “Being so non-inclusive of the gay community has [helped create] the atmosphere of hate that’s around. I really think those actions are a breakthrough.”

Vigil participant Cate Readling, a co-leader of the Oak Park Scouts for Equality — one of the first local branches of the national organization founded to oppose the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on gay adult leaders — said some of the nation’s outrage about Orlando needs to be redirected to Chicago.

“When the shooting happened, I changed by Facebook page to honor Orlando, but I also posted year-to-date statistics on homicides in Austin, which is five blocks from my house,” Readling said. “I want us to remember here also.” 

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