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Downstate Illinois LGBTQ Activist Asks for Compassion in Wake of Orlando Shootings

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VIA FLICKR.COM/BEEJJORGENSEN
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Across the nation those in and who are allies of the LGBTQ community are mourning the loss of life in Orlando over the weekend. It appears the shooter targeted a gay club specifically. Thousands around the country participated in vigils to honor the dead and to defy the shooter's actions, which were apparently meant to impart fear and hatred.

In Springfield, a vigil took place at the Abraham Lincoln Unitarian Universalist Congregation and a similar event is planned at The Phoenix Center later this week. We spoke with Buff Carmichael who was in attendance and who has long been an activist for LGBTQ rights.

Carmichael came to Springfield in 1993. At that time being an out gay man was more of a rarity, especially in areas of Illinois not in or around Chicago.

In 1996 he started publishing The Prairie Flame, a LGBTQ-centered newspaper that was meant for those living downstate. (You can read Dusty Rhode's report on Carmichael and his effort with the newspaper, which shut down in 2008, here.)

"So many people in this community were so very, very closeted when I first arrived here," Carmichael said.

He said gay clubs serve as a place of security for people who might not feel able to express their sexuality in any other setting. Regarding the massacre in Orlando, Carmichael said, "It's the worst direct-target on LGBT people since the Holocaust."

Still, Carmichael says he doesn't want the shooting to result in more hatred, specifically toward mainstream Muslims. (The shooter appears to have pledged allegiance to ISIS during the attack.)

“We have some wonderful people in this country who are Muslim, and I do not want this to become an anti-Muslim crusade,” Carmichael said.

Overall, the tragic loss of life could lead to the strengthening of community, and more empathy, according to Carmichael. "These things, as sad and tragic as they are, I think they tend to bring us together and make us stronger."

And as a parting thought - he wants to acknowledge the support of police and emergency responders:

"I have been thinking very much about the responders ... all of those who came to that scene. A lot of them may not like gay people, may not be our good friends, but they set aside their personal preferences and their personal safety to go into a place of danger to do their job. I think that's all the LGBT community expects of everyone - that we all work together and set aside our personal feelings in time of difficulty."