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It Could’ve Been Us

June 14, 2016

Like many others this past Sunday, I woke up to a slow unfolding of the disaster in Orlando. I first saw the news while scanning my New York Times app on the way to mass. It takes about 15 minutes (with children) to walk to Saint Gertrude parish. I saw the news early, and was sort of numb during the rest of the stroll.

In that numbness I thought about how, just the night before, my spouse and I had attended the gay-friendly Midsommarfest in the nearby Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago. We live in Edgewater, but do lots of things in Andersonville out of habit. We lived there for seven years as a married couple before a two-year stint in Monmouth, Illinois, and a return to Chicago in 2012. We’ve lived in the Edgewater neighborhood since, but Andersonville appeals to us for many reasons, one of which is the early June fun of Midsommarfest.

Andersonville is exemplary of Chicago-style pluralism, if not multiculturalism. The neighborhood began as a Swedish enclave outside the city limits in the 1870s, after the Great Chicago Fire. It began to be officially  recognized for its Swedish character in the 1960s. Midsommarfest began in 1965, and the Swedish American Museum was founded in 1976. It retained a strong Swedish character until the late 1980s, when gays and lesbians became attracted to it as a haven outside of Boy’s Town. Exemplary of that change, a neighborhood mainstay, Women and Children First Bookstore, moved to the neighborhood in 1990 and caters to the LGBTQIA readers.

The neighborhood has gentrified quite a bit over the past 15-20 years, so its class diversity isn’t what it used to be. That’s no small change. But Andersonville has retained its gender and LGBTQIA diversity. When we first lived there, the lesbians outnumbered the gays. There were a number of lesbian bars, but now the only one left is “Farragut’s on Clark,” or just Farragut’s to the locals. Over the years the gay population seems to have overtaken the lesbians. As the gentrification proceeded, I used to describe the neighborhood to friends as the land of “gays and strollers.” My spouse and I added a stroller in 2008.

Midsommarfest exemplifies the diversity of the Andersonville’s LGBTQIA population. Like many of Chicago’s neighborhood fests, Midsommarfest has your standard run of craft tents, beer stands, food vendors, bouncy houses, and concert stages. The day-time crowds consist of parents with strollers and kids in hand. Since it’s early summer, everyone happily earns their first pinkness of skin. The night-time crowd features louder adults and no small measure of bacchanalia.

This past Saturday night, one of the stages hosted a lip-syncing context between drag queens of all shapes and sizes. I wouldn’t call it wholesome fun, but it was a hoot to watch while we ate dinner on the patio at Hamburger Mary’s. After dinner and away from the stage, the crowds definitely skewed toward the neighborhood’s LGBTQIA population. Bare-chested men were the norm after what had been a 90+ F day. But there were many straight couples out and about too. We met some friends to listen to an ABBA cover band perform on the fest’s south stage. Since our sitter was set to expire at 10 pm, we bowed out around 9:45 for a walk home.

As I reflected on the past night’s scene on Sunday morning, all I could think was this: It could’ve been us. The scene in Orlando might’ve involved us. All it takes is a disaffected (or repressed) person—probably a man—with a record just clean enough to by an AR-15. After that, anyone can get caught in the crossfire.

While my prayer at Saint Gertrude’s extended toward the victims in Orlando, and those mothers and fathers who had lost sons and daughters, it was also one of thanks that our own Saturday night hadn’t devolved into the NRA-enabled nightmare that has hit other communities, killing the sons and daughters of others. In our case, it would’ve left our son and daughter without their parents. – TL

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