Chicagoans held vigil Sunday for the victims of the Orlando shooting. Credit: Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Chicago’s LGBTQ community reacted to news of the shooting that killed at least 50 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando early Sunday morning with an outpouring of support, solidarity, and grief. As the city woke Monday, plans for numerous vigils were already in place, following up on one that took place Sunday evening. 

The vigil was organized by Chicago Survivors, an organization dedicated to helping the families of victims of gun violence in the city, and was attended by Chicago Police Department superintendent Eddie Johnson, among others. “We’re here not only to support Orlando, but to support the community here, and to let you know we’ll always be here for you,” Johnson said, echoing the CPD’s statement condemning “another reprehensible act of gun violence.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel also released a statement, in which he reaffirmed the city’s dedication to hosting a safe and successful Pride Parade later this month, and criticized the “horrifying act of terrorism in Orlando.”

Other Chicago institutions, including the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board, commented on the shooting. “Orlando—all America—grieves today. We remember the dead. Just as we remember the innocent victims of terror in Brussels and Paris. The fight is long. The end is not yet in sight,” the Tribune editorial read, linking the Orlando shooting to the war on terror.

Still, others warned of the backlash that could spring from laying the attack at the feet of Muslims. (The shooter, who was killed on the scene, was identified by Florida police as 29-year-old Omar Mateen, an American citizen who is said to have expressed support for ISIS.) The Chicago-based Gay Liberation Network put out a statement that focused on ensuring that homophobia would not be met with Islamophobia. “The worst thing that we could do right now is compound a horrible act of anti-LGBT hate by promoting anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant hate.”

Many other Chicagoans seized this opportunity to present a universal message about discrimination or the horrors of gun violence.

But for the most part, Chicago’s reaction was one of solidarity and commiseration. Equality Illinois, one of the state’s premier LGBTQ advocacy groups, wrote in a statement that “while we don’t know yet the specific motive of the shooter, it is obviously a hateful act. We do know we should all feel safe in our homes, schools and places of business, worship and entertainment. Our hearts go out to the Orlando LGBT community and the family and friends of the victims, and we wish a speedy recovery to the injured.”

Similarly, the Center on Halsted, a support group for LGBTQ youth, said that “Our hearts are heavy today.” The center is also organizing a vigil for Monday night at 7 PM.

A number of LGBTQ nightclubs also released statements expressing support for Orlando, and the Pulse Nightclub where the shooting took place. “Our Thoughts Are With Pulse Orlando Tonight. ‪#PulseOrlando,” wrote Roscoe’s Tavern. Berlin Nightclub concurred: “We’re heartbroken by the tragedy at ‪#PulseOrlando. ‪#LoveNotHate”

Some say the attack was particularly grievous because it targeted what is supposed to be a safe space for LGBTQ people. “If you look at the history of the LGBTQ community in any city, the center of our community has been our bars and our nightclubs,” Brian Johnson, the CEO of Equality Illinois told the Tribune. “We didn’t have churches, we didn’t have community centers. We had our bars and our nightclubs to gather and to feel safe and to feel included. When we are attacked, it strikes at the heart of where we feel the safest.”

Others have noted that, while attacks on bars and nightclubs are rare, violence against LGBTQ people is extremely common. LGBTQ people are twice as likely to be the target of violent hate crimes than black or Jewish people, and four times as likely as Muslims.

In response to the Orlando shooting, the Chicago Police Department is increasing the volume of patrols throughout the city, and concentrating more officers in the Boystown neighborhood. Security will also be tightened for the Chicago Pride Parade on June 26.