Former Ald. Cliff Kelley ( left ) , 'Peacock' and Cathy Christeller. Sam Kosha. Thomas Goree. Kerry Kross ( right ) and his partner. Photos by Andrew Davis
Actions may speak louder than words, but the Gay Liberation Network's ( GLN's ) Eighth Annual Matthew Shepard Event—which took place Oct. 7 at the corner of Halsted and Roscoe— brought home the concept of unity through actions and words.
The rally, co-hosted by the GLN's Izzy Becerril and Thomas Goree, featured a host of speakers who talked mostly about how anti-gay sentiment and violence have touched them and others, both locally and even globally.
'The speakers may have different platforms and different backgrounds, but we bring them together in the spirit of unity and solidarity,' Becerril told the crowd, which numbered about 200. 'Throughout the world, different minorities are oppressed, whether they be gender, racial or sexual minorities—and they are all our brothers and sisters. It is our job [ and ] our obligation to band together with them. If we band together, we have more power as one group than we do as individual groups.'
Will Lockett, of Black LGBT & Allies for Equality and the GLN, encouraged people to take a stand against homophobia and talked about how he has taken part in protests such as those at the House of Blues when reggae artist Buju Banton ( who sings anti-gay song lyrics ) performed there. He also talked about opposing the anti-gay stance of African-American ministers who were in his neighborhood in Broadview.
Cathy Christeller, executive director of the Chicago Women's AIDS Project, delivered an impassioned speech in which she said that the struggle is 'local, national and global.' She added that the GLBT community 'has to stop letting ourselves be divided; that we have to stop letting them play the blame community; and that we have to say that gay rights and women's rights are human rights. We all have the right to live free from violence. ... We [ also ] need to stand with universal healthcare access [ for ] everyone.'
The crowd also heard from Kerry Kross, who survived a March gay-bashing at a church in Oak Lawn. He talked about being 'brutally attacked' and being called a 'fucking fag' while attending a function with his wife and his partner. Incredibly, he said, he and his family ended up being arrested—and eventually defeating the charges. He also commented that they have filed a lawsuit against Oak Lawn, the church and the police.
Sam Kosha, of the Persian Gay & Lesbian Organization, took the stage to tell the audience about conditions for LGBT individuals in Iran. 'Iran is one of eight countries where it is a capital offense [ the equivalent of a death sentence ] for being a homosexual,' he said, as he relayed a succession of startling facts. 'Some people have been hanged for their sexuality. Also, there is a lot of pressure from the government and society on LGBT people. They have no Pride [ Parades ] . They have no resources—our organization is the only informational outlet for people.' Although American LGBT individuals have not achieved total equality, Kosha succeeded in showing that the community in Iran is, unfortunately, far more deprived than the one in this country.
One of the most emotional speakers of the night was Chris Geovanis of the Chicago Coalition Against War and Racism. 'Matthew Shepard was murdered by those boneheads and you here are a standing, living legacy that we're not going to let that kind of atrocity be forgotten,' she stated. 'We are going to help people connect the dots [ between ] that kind of heinous act and the bullshit policies that, unfortunately, both parties are willing to advance in Washington and Springfield.'
Cliff Kelley—a civil-rights advocate and WVON-AM host—was the event's keynote speaker, and he did not disappoint. Kelley, who actually introduced a gay-rights ordinance into Chicago's city council in 1973, also stressed solidarity. 'Do not allow people to separate,' he said. He also stated—to thunderous applause—that 'people should be allowed to marry anyone they want. Whatever your sexual proclivities, the only requirement should be that everyone is a consenting adult. Other than that, whose business is it? [ People ] have hang-ups about [ others' ] hang-downs.' That last comment generated much laughter and hand-clapping from the crowd.
The subsequent march ran from the rally site south on Halsted to Belmont, followed by a one-block walk to Clark. Then, the protesters trekked north along Clark to Addison, then took Addison to Halsted. The march finally wound up at the original spot.
Pedestrians and drivers along Halsted acted relatively calmly. However, as the marchers walked through Wrigleyville—shouting items such as 'Hey, hey! Ho, Ho! Homophobia's got to go!'—the mostly heterosexual crowd that poured out of clubs and restaurants to view the protest displayed everything from applause to dropped jaws. The protesters marched steadfastly as a unit, walking and shouting in unison.
After reaching their destination, the protesters heard from the GLN's Andy Thayer. 'Anti-gay LGBT violence, wherever it occurs, must be opposed. ... We can't progress as a community unless we show solidarity with each other,' he said—closing the event on a fittingly unifying note.
Scott Free and his band provided entertainment, performing several political songs.