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Springfield's Memorial For Orlando Draws Hundreds

NPR Illinois

About 300 people stood on Lawrence Avenue outside of Springfield's LGBTQ community resource facility, The Phoenix Center

It provides resources like support groups for transgender people and LGBT youth, and also functions as a shelter to LGBT people who might otherwise be homeless. The memorial service included statements from four politicians and an appearance by the governor. Some in the crowd joined hands, some waved American and rainbow flags, while others held signs with a simple message: "LOVE." 

Jonna Cooley who heads The Phoenix Center started the evening event by saying it was meant to bring together the central Illinois LGBT community and its allies in order to pay tribute to the 49 people who were shot by a gunman over the weekend at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. "I've talked to many people this week, we're feeling sadness, anger and frustration that these hate crimes continue, despite all the progress that the LGBT community has made. LGBT bars and nightclubs like Pulse were the original community centers and have historically been a place where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people could be themselves, feel pride, and find love and support," Cooley told the crowd.

Cooley said Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner requested to make an appearance earlier that day. He was not supported in his campaign for governor by many in the LGBT community. He said in the past that he would have vetoed the gay marriage law that was signed by previous governor, Democrat Pat Quinn, in 2013. While addressing the crowd, Rauner appeared to be speaking off-script. Both an American and gay pride flag were coming out of a pocket in his button-down shirt.

"There are thousands of people here in America and around the world seeking to hurt innocent Americans ... Here in Illinois we stand with members of our LGBT community ... with those in Orlando, Florida and across America. We stand for equality ... (and) against the bigotry and hatred that denies human justice," Rauner said.

Ryan Bandy is the owner of Club Station House, a gay bar in Springfield. He says he had visited Pulse before - and when he heard the news: "I lost it, I started screaming and crying, I was just in shock ... It's just a surreal feeling to know that somewhere you have been before, this took place." Bandy says he had assumed Pulse was a stereotypical name for a "high-energy dance bar" but had come to find out an owner had lost her brother to AIDS in 1991. She had co-founded Pulse as a tribute to him, and the name was meant to keep his spirit alive. Bandy also owns a sports bar in Springfield called Win, Lose, or Draught. "That's the type of bar owner I want to be, I love giving back to our community - at both of bars we're doing fundraisers over the weekend for the Orlando victims," Bandy said. He says while he will be cautious with security at Club Station House, he refuses to live in fear or to "over-react" by installing metal detectors and patting down everyone who enters the bar.

Many allies as well as members of the LGBTQ community were in attendance, including Cindy Martsch. Her son Allen is transgender, he now lives in LA. "I worry about him, and I worry about hate crime. I worry he won't come home after a night out with his friends or a night out at a restaurant, so that's why I'm here - because we can't be afraid," Martsch said as tears formed in her eyes. She says she wants to be an example of a proud parent of someone in the LGBT community, and that she's grateful: "Because my son came home, and somebody else's didn't."

Credit NPR Illinois
Cindy Martsch reads from a list of those who were killed in Orlando

Various religious representatives spoke at the event, including Driss El Akrich of the Islamic Society of Greater Springfield. He told the crowd, "All human beings deserve the right to live their lives without fear of being targeted because of who they are. As Muslims our experience with Islamophobia and hate crimes reinforces our commitment to utterly reject all forms of hate and prejudice." It is said the shooter in Orlando pledged allegiance to the extremist Islamist sect called ISIS in his final moments before being killed by law enforcement.

At the end of the memorial service, Jonna Cooley was busy clearing off the street which had been blocked off by two police cars. She said the message of the day was that love trumps hate, and that: "The blame for this doesn't lie in any one place. It's about guns, it's also about hate, and it's about mental illness and various issues - but people need to come together regardless of race, gender, ethnicity - any of those things." From the variety of people gathered: newborns thru the elderly, Christians and Muslims, and Democratic and Republican politicians - it's clear the Orlando massacre will have a lasting impact. It's already caused those who might not always see eye to eye to stand together for equality, and to stand against hatred and violence.

Rachel Otwell of the Illinois Times is a former NPR Illinois reporter.
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