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LGBTs vocal part of Occupy Chicago
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times

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New colors are floating along the protest signs at Occupy Chicago.

Rainbow flags, supplied by Gay Liberation Network, have been added to the scene, signaling a growing coalition between LGBTQ activists and the Occupy Chicago movement.

An estimated 3,000 demonstrators marched from LaSalle and Jackson downtown to Congress Plaza on Oct. 22, the latest action in what has become a non-stop protest of perceived Wall Street greed over the last month.

The rally was the latest attempt by protesters to camp in the plaza after an estimated 175 were arrested last week.

However, what started as a protest over economic injustice a month ago appears to have grown into a movement that embraces its diversity with a widespread call for unity and equality from anti-racism to workers rights.

That message of equality is one that seems to have hit home for some LGBTQ organizers who came to the march and spoke at the rally that followed.

Before the Oct. 22 march kicked off, one speaker told the crowd to cheer if people of all races, religions, economic backgrounds, political beliefs, genders and sexual orientations were welcome at Occupy Chicago, to which people responded with shouts of support.

"Gay, straight, Black, white/people of the world unite!" protesters cheered.

LGBT direct-action group Gay Liberation Network (GLN), came to the protest armed with rainbow flags and signs that read "LGBTs are 10% of the 99% and support Occupy Chicago!"

The group's founder, Andy Thayer, spoke at the rally afterward. Thayer criticized Mayor Emanuel for giving police the nod to arrest protesters camping out in Grant Park the week prior.

"This is a peaceful protest, Mr. Mayor," Thayer said. "We will be peaceful. Can you guarantee that you will be peaceful, Mr. Mayor?"

Queer youth organization Gender JUST was also on hand with signs and cheers of their own.

Several young queer people have expressed the issues expressed in the demonstration have a universality that includes queer people.

"I do see some similarities between the protests and the work I do in the queer community," said Noa Shayden, a queer Chicagoan who has been active in the protests for weeks. "I've made a number of friends down at Occupy Chicago who all come from different backgrounds. It's shown me that people from all walks of life face similar types of discrimination."

However, the call for unity and inclusion was not just limited to LGBT people.

Protesters have also expressed frustration with what they see as a lack of government support for teachers, nurses, hotel workers, immigrants and people with disabilities to name a few. Messages ranged from a need for job creation to dissatisfaction with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Several anti-death penalty protesters came bearing images of Troy Davis, who was controversially executed in Georgia last month amid public outcry that he was innocent. Other demands included affordable healthcare and prison reform.

"[This] is a movement from every part of the political spectrum," said one speaker who did not identify himself by name. "Because we have finally realized that we the people are on the same team."

Protesters included families with children and the very elderly, some of whom were pushed through the crowds in wheelchairs.

Emotions were still raw exactly one week after police arrested hundreds of protesters who tried to camp out in Grant Park. Protesters have demanded that police allow them to stay overnight in a park. To date, the two sides have not reached an agreement.

Many planned to spend the night on Saturday in Grant Park, but police began arresting protesters who refused to leave the park.

The march was one of several to be held in Chicago in recent weeks as part of a global demonstration that in includes New York's Occupy Wall Street protests.

Protesters have said they will remain on the streets through Chicago's bitter cold months. Before that can happen, they say, they need a place to camp.

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