We see their young faces now. Mostly Latino, mostly young, male and female. Out for a good time on a Saturday night in Orlando, theme park capital of the world.
There is no way to make whole what has been torn to shreds. For those who lost family and friends, the scars will remain no matter how much time passes.
A history of violence courses through the veins of the LGBTQIA communityin Chicago, nationally and internationally. The victims and survivors have come from every letter of the LGBTQIA alphabet, every race, class, religion, ethnicity, ability and age. Some have made headlines, such as Matthew Shepard and Brandon Teena, or those 32 people killed in 1973 at a gay bar in New Orleansup until this week, the largest single targeted murder of LGBTQIAs in history.
Some were not well known, but their collective death raised alarms, such as the murder of more than 20 transgender women, mostly women of color, in this country in 2015.
Chicago's LGBTQIA community has seen its share of victims and survivors for as long as there has been a community. Some were victimized by those in power, including police, while others were murdered by assailants unknown and unprosecuted. Others were killed in domestic violence, some in "stranger danger" pickups gone bad.
We report on these tragedies one at a time, or in groups. We also know that violence in society overall disproportionately targets those living in poverty, those who are people of color, those who are LGBTQIA and other overlapping categories deemed "other" by some of those who wield power.
The LGBTQIA community has also been dealt other kinds of woundsand one that tried to take out whole segments of our alphabet lives. Gay men and transgender women have experienced devastating losses during the 35-year-old AIDS crisis. In those early years, it was funeral after funeral.
We cared for our own, fought for our own, fed our own, found illegal drugs for our own, and buried our own.
Having covered this beautiful, tortured, difficult community for 32 years, I am not sure how all this death has not gotten to me. I was 21 years old when I started at GayLife newspaper in 1984, and then 22 years old when I co-founded Windy City Times in 1985. I was immediately covering death, like a young cub reporter dropped into a war zone. It was AIDS, it was murder, it was suicide.
I covered when moms and dads lost custody of their children simply for being LGBTQIA. One story that will always be with me, the case of Sharon Kowalski, badly injured in a car accident, kept from her loving partner Karen Thompson by a family who denied that love so much that they hurt their own child's recovery.
It was even serial killersI mean, really, at 21 I was covering Larry Eyler chopping up the body of 15-year-old Danny Bridges, among 22 young men and boys he killed in Chicago and the Midwest. Followed in 1991 by Jeffrey Dahmer, who killed 17 young men and boys, traveling through Chicago bars with his self-hate and murderous rage.
But it was always, always, always more. It was drag queens, leather queens, softball dykes, basketball dudes, radical political activists, philanthropists, professionals, politicians, poets, musicians, artists, writers, actors, dancers, seniors and street kids. It was everything, and it could usually drown out the horrible headlines.
I also lucked out in meeting some of our community's early heroes, men and women who took me under their wing, trusting me with their stories, and sharing their amazing work in the 1960s and 1970s. While I was growing up in those decades, they were growing the community.
These stories, and these tragedies, also made me very aware at a very young age how precious life is. I was covering and working beside people my age or slightly older living their last days and weeks. They honored me by giving me time to tell their stories, and take their photos, before they died. I was on the front lines of history, feeling a great call to make sure these gay men, transgender women, lesbians with cancer, and so many others did not die without their voices heard.
They still motivate me today, and they should also motivate us as a community to realize the collective sacrifice has been great, and we can add the sacrifice of those killed and injured in Orlando to our pyre of pain.
We have conquered so much, and grown and shown the world our pride will not die. It can't be murdered, it can't be shoved back in the closet, it can't be stymied by any amount of hatred that is thrown at it.
Our community is very used to coping with death and dying. But we are equally fabulous at life and living.
Tracy Baim is publisher and executive editor of Windy City Times.