It’s been so hard looking at the names and faces of the beautiful people lost in the hateful massacre at the queer Orlando nightclub Pulse. Nearly all the faces and names belong to queer Latinxs, and when I see them, I see another brother or sister or elder or primx who’s gone forever and who was targeted because they are my brothers and sisters and elders and primxs. Queer Latinxs go out to spaces like Pulse on Latinx night to find family and be happy and feel safe and free. And that was taken away from them.
I can’t believe this many people are gone. This is my family. This is our family. And they’re gone. Taken from us by homophobia and racism and guns and targeted hate.
How are we supposed to find safety and freedom when we can’t even dance to our own music in our own building with our own people? How are we supposed to mourn our family when Congressmen go on TV and say “this probably has nothing to do with it being an LGBT bar” and pundits don’t even mention that it was Latinx night in their 8 hours of coverage? How are we supposed to heal? How are we supposed to heal? How are we supposed to heal?
All of the victims were so beautiful. And all of us who are left are just as beautiful. I want to send out a message to every gay and lesbian and bi and trans and queer Latinx that you are all beautiful and you are all my family and you deserve to be safe and affirmed and loved. I want to send out a message to everyone erasing that this was a targeted attack on LGBTQ Latinxs that they’re contributing to the violence. And I know I’m not the only one who wants to say these things. Here are just a few of the many, many LGBTQ Latinxs in our community who are speaking up and speaking out to make sure that queer Latinxs are not erased. If you’re a queer Latinx, or person of color, you can find community in our Autostraddle Speakeasy Facebook group.
If you want to donate to the victims of the Pulse shooting, you can go to the gofundme page.
Andy Frias, 24, mental health counselor, young queer latinx who likes to dance
I couldn’t function today. I cried at work. Drove home in tears. I want to sleep until they stop hating us, hating me. But they would probably find me in my bed. Find some reason that my sleep, my dreams are “sin” or “wrong” or “perverse.” Kill me to kill my dreams because being queer is too dangerous.
Today I will lie in bed and drown in salt water.
Tomorrow I will remember myself, drink milk to strengthen my bones, sharpen my nails like claws because if I’m supposed to be dangerous might as well play the part, ¿no?
If I will be named dangerous, then I will wear it like armor to fight for my right to exist and be human on this planet and maybe when the fighting is done, I’ll be able to sleep without drowning.
Araguaney Rodriguez Da Silva, 27, Educator
I know many people get the impact that the shooting at Pulse has had on the queer community. However, I’m worried that not many have paused, moved to the sidelines and witnessed the devastation the shooting at Pulse has had on queer Latinxs.
For you to understand the impact that the hate crime at Pulse had on me, you need some context. Venezuela is where I come from, an immigrant from the country with the highest homicide rate in the world. My whole family is still there, and I stay here, trying to survive and support some of them. My mom prefers I don’t visit, lest I ruffle the wrong feathers in our barrio. Let me tell you, there’s a singular kind of loneliness that comes from living without immediate context — not knowing anyone that knows the taste of the candy I loved when I was a kid, the accent of my favorite cartoon, the sayings we have. But I left home to flee from violence, so I appease my cries for context with media.
One of my favorite ways to feel closer to home, to place myself within immediate context is through music. Music is almost tangible in the easy way I can access it and share it with my friends. There’s barely any Latinx themed night that happens near me that I don’t attend for at least a couple of songs. So clubs are significant in that they are sacred spaces for my queer body, but queer clubs playing Latinx music is like stepping into the mothership: here I belong. Latinx themed nights are where I hear my language sung back at me from every speaker, where I get to salsa, and merengue around friends — teaching the ones that don’t know, and stunned in wonder by the experts. It’s not uncommon I have to beg my white queer friends to join, to come with me. Their mothership sounds like Tegan and Sara and homoerotic undertones in mainstream U.S. music, their mothership is present in nearly every queer space; they don’t dance to Latinx music, and they don’t need it like me. My brown queer safer space.
The hate crime at Pulse put a multi-pronged skewer through my heart because of all that context I just gave you. Latinx siblings with names too familiar, too easy to pronounce are listed in a seemingly endless scroll. Those are the same names that half of U.S. folks would take pause, point at, mispronounce and then maybe ask for “the shorter version.” The music they were listening to that night at Pulse, even the music video Pulse posted on FB days before to promote the event, was in my mother tongue, a language I rarely get to speak where I live. The shooting was an affront to our sacred space as queers, and a violation of the place that most closely warms me up like home. Twice the violence in one tragedy.
Seeing the news, or my news feed, pouring bleach over all the details until the tragedy is white and squeaky clean, meant witnessing the real time erasure of my community’s grief and pain. It is being offered verbal, written proof that my Latinx brown queerness is inconvenient and it confuses the message. That the message is only worthwhile if it is respectable, if it is white. Post after post I see my pain erased. “It happened at a Latinx themed night at a queer club with trans headliners!” repeated as “it happened at a queer club with trans headliners!” repeated as “it happened at a queer club!” repeated as “it happened at a club!” repeated as “it happened!” repeated as silence. Another kind of violence.
I Skyped my mom to tell her the news. The smile she always has for me crumpled, and she shook as she asked me “mi niñx, where will you be safe?” She wailed as the depth of the tragedy sunk in. It has been years since my mom asked me to come visit. She knows that being “visibly” queer makes me a larger target at home, still the country with the highest homicide rate in the world. For years I’ve avoided telling her that target is multilingual, and in the U.S. I barely feel any safer. This tragedy, this hate crime, told her for me.
Aida Manduley, MSW, Latinx activist, therapist, sex educator
I was back in my homeland of Puerto Rico—the first time in two years—for a professional conference when I heard the news.
I sat around a table, ordering pancakes as big as my face, surrounded by fellow members of the Women of Color Sexual Health Network. We ate, talked shop, and decompressed after some difficult events that weekend. There was a TV on next to us—flashing lights and “ORLANDO SHOOTING” in big letters displayed on the bottom of the screen.
It’s too early for this. We’re already so weary.
Not until later did I actually pay attention to the news. I was in work mode, though, and nothing sunk in. Later that night, I hopped a plane back to Boston and came home to an empty bed. I craved human contact, craved my queer partners, craved community as I read the names of the dead late into the night, crying and unable to sleep. I wanted to light candles, whisper Spanish into the sky and honor the dead, but I could only witness the little information available and sob in the dark, thankful I only had a few clients the next day.
On Monday, I watched a mother recount the last words she exchanged with her son as they texted during the shooting. On Monday, I watched the last Snapchat videos various victims filmed that night, including one with gunshots in the background. On Monday, I couldn’t feel rage because my nerves were too tangled in sadness and exhaustion. On Monday, I told one of my partners that I was randomly crying throughout the day.
“It’s not random if you’re grieving, boo. They killed your *family*”
Their words settled in my chest. They killed my family.
I’ve never been one to grieve over strangers, but this felt personal. They were fellow queers, fellow people of color, out to have a good time.
23 out of 49 victims were Puerto Ricans like me.
By being queer and trans we have inherited legacies of mourning, loss, and persecution. By being Latinx, we have inherited legacies of discrimination, colonization, and diaspora. And we must remember that we have also been passed down resistance, power, healing, life.
“They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”
And I could try to speak about the hope for the future and the ways we are strong and resilient, of how I see love as the long-term fuel we need for our movements.
I could also try to speak of the rage at how many White queers have put themselves at the center of this grief like they were the center of the universe. I could try to speak of the disgust at how many have spun this into Islamophobic propaganda, speak of the frustration at how this has been turned into a detached debate about gun control.
I could try to speak to how I see this as part of a web of violence, threads connecting the murders of trans people; the slaughter of Natives; African enslavement; police brutality targeting Black and brown bodies; harsh immigration policies; lynchings and gay-bashings; harmful legislation about where we can go to the bathroom, how we can dress, and how we can reproduce (or not); and the present-day colonization of Puerto Rico.
But all I can speak to right now is holding sorrow in the same hands I try to hold hope, and how sometimes my hands don’t feel big enough. All I can speak to right now is the grief at those misgendered after death, those outed to families who would reject them, all the ripples of pain spreading throughout Orlando and mi isla and the entire continent.
The atom of the Latinx universe is the family, not the individual, and so the number of broken hearts balloons much larger than the 49 dead and 53 wounded.
All I can speak to right now is my fear that one day it will be me and my familia… and realizing that it already is.
All I can speak to right now is how intensely I want to protect my communities and how I want to care for my QT/POC lovers with such ferocity that the world trembles.
We see the cis hets with rainbow profile filters who haven’t checked in even when they don’t see us. We see the cis yt gays who ignore the Latinidad and Blackness of our fallen family at Stonewall and bully their yt cis het celeb crush of the day into coming out at a memorial for us, even when they don’t see us. Even when we’re mass murdered, we’re barely visible, but we see you.
Layla Benitez-James, 27, Poet & Translator
While many acts of violence before this one have scared me, not one has cut me quite in this way. I feel deeply sad, still numb and insanely lucky yet guilty that I was so far away from my home country when it happened.
Over the past three years I have been attempting to be more honest in the way I live my life, and to step into more welcoming and understanding spaces, places where people look like me and are queer like me. Lately many of those places have been virtual, but gay clubs in San Antonio were my first glance into a world I could fit into. I have found a need to seek out these places of sameness and these spaces have woven themselves into a kind of dark and protective rug laid over cold white concrete. I can only imagine how The Pulse must have formed part of some similar covering for the people who went there.
The news of the tragedy pulled that rug swiftly out from under me, and completely. I cried. Not just for the innocent lives lost but because it cut at many facets of my identity and its many parts that I could see when I looked at the faces of the brothers and sisters killed, I saw myself, black and brown and queer, many of them seemed to be living out loud in a way I still struggle to do. I see people with faces like mine who are, who were the same age I am now, 27. I see people the age I was when I started, slowly, coming out to people, 24. I see a girl who was the same age I was when I started going to gay clubs, “just to dance,” just because it was “more fun,” and “safer,” than other clubs. I see someone who shares my last name, someone I could have been friends with or bumped into trying to weave through a crowded room.
I don’t really know yet what it means but I know it has rushed a lot of things together and tangled them deep in my heart. I have been living in Spain for the past two years, spending time in summers in my native Texas and I can still feel myself hiding at times, opening and closing off parts of myself depending on who I am around and where I am. When I got the news I was with a girl I love. She reminded me of the day we had, holding hands and kissing and being a bit obnoxious here and there as you can in a big city like Madrid which is both intimate and anonymous at the same time. We caught the last day of the big book fair so that I could go to Berkana, a gay bookshop’s booth and buy a friends book. I cried a lot anyways. The next day I went immediately to an online community and at least there I felt understanding. I do still feel hope, I feel like things can be rebuilt, that they are creeping in the right direction, I can’t really say more except that it could have been me and it still could be me and that is a difficult thing to sit with, many many people are sitting with it.
Yvonne Marquez, 25, Latina Lesbian, Senior Editor at Autostraddle
Every cell in my body absorbed the Pulse shooting news. It was a shock. Every cell in my body holds grief and anger right now. Besides crying, I don’t know how to express it in an outward way. I don’t have the right words to post on social media. When my heart is screaming and crying, I stay silent. I don’t know how to tell others outside of the queer community how much this hurts. I don’t know how to make my family understand that I’m more than just sad about a shooting. Unrelated to the shooting, my brother FaceTimed me and asked how I was doing. I said I was sad. He made a face and genuinely didn’t have the faintest idea why I would be sad. “Why?” “Because of the shooting,” is all I could say. “Oh,” was all he said.
On Saturday, the day before the shooting, my girlfriend, Gloria and I had the greatest day ever. We woke up and rode our bikes, along with our dog, to a cool, brunch spot a few minutes away from our apartment. We sat outside and people watched and talked about our upcoming trips and ate eggs and bacon. On our way back home, we got caught in the rain. It poured on us and we didn’t care. We laughed and laughed all the way home. We were living. After running a few errands for our upcoming trips, we headed out to Fort Worth to Gloria’s cousin house. She had invited us to her son’s baptism party and she doesn’t care that we’re gay. Mexican Catholics usually baptize their kids at the age of one and then have loud ass parties to celebrate. Gloria’s family has made huge strides in connecting with her after she found out she had cancer. That means they’re reaching out to me too. At Gloria’s cousin’s house, we ate tacos and sang along to mariachi, banda and Jenni Rivera songs. At one point, everyone was dancing. Gloria’s cousin and her husband were dancing, Gloria’s other cousin and her husband were dancing, the little kids were dancing, Gloria’s aunts and uncles were dancing and Gloria and I were dancing. We were dancing together in front of her family and they didn’t care. It was a happy time.
I haven’t always been able to dance with my girlfriend in front of family or other Latinxs. There’s no space on the dance floor at quinceañeras and bodas for queers. There’s nothing wrong with dancing with another woman but on the dance floor, your body language shouts to everyone in the room you’re more than just amigas. Can you really handle all the glares, the whispers, the supposed dishonor you’re bringing to your family? When you’re first coming out, the chisme is too daunting, too loud — a wild contender to your queer, not-yet-brave heart.
It wasn’t till I graduated college that I found a dance floor that held space for all my identities. It was a fundraiser for the queer people of color organization in Austin called Queer Qumbia en Tejas. At the Sahara Lounge, I danced so hard to all my favorite Selena songs with my girlfriend because that space was mine. That space was for queer brown people to live, dance, make out, drink, laugh — all to the tune of cumbias, the beats we grew up listening to but never had full permission to dance as our whole selves. My girlfriend and I rolled our hips together with reckless abandon, my hand on her hip, her hands in my hands, we moved our feet, smiled and laughed like it was the time of our life, because it was.
When I heard about the Orlando shooting, I thought of that time. How alive I felt being able to be free on that dance floor, how free the victims must have felt before they were shot. It hurts my heart to see their faces — the same shade of brown as mine, the same rhythm in their last names. There’s not many affirming spaces for a queer Latinx people so it hurts that much more that this happened in such a special place. I grieve for those who were taken from us, my hermanxs, but I also grieve for my QPOC family who are living in this society. We’re not safe, my friends. There’s a lot of work to be done. But for now, we mourn.
Myra Shapiro, Queer, Brown, Latinx, PhD Candidate
My wet dream is to go to a bar for a queer/trans party with Rock en Español. The Latinx culture can be so divided, by color, by country, by language. The way you speak Spanish, the words you use, the lilt of your accent, whether you speak it at all immediately sets a new encounter with a Latinx stranger into a series of identifying steps. You, stranger, do you say che or guey? Do you eat mondongo or ceviche? Do you belong to me? Rock en Español surpasses those boundaries. Not every country has a famous rock group, maybe some countries like Colombia or Chile dominate the Rock en Español world, but the music of a group like La Ley or Maná belongs to everyone. Mariposa Traicionera belongs as much to me as to a Mexican person or to you, my Latinx friend.
Rock en Español or music from individual countries can be hard to find in US bars, even harder in queer and trans spaces. So we take what we can get, “Una Noche Latina” full of salsa and merengue, that which is accepted in the US as universally Latino, even if it isn’t. Esas migas, ¡las aceptamos con cariño! It’s enough to be noticed, to come together at night and pretend these steps are ours, because we want to be with other people that understand what it’s like to be a shade of the Latinx rainbow (we come in all colors, and yes, there are many Latinx people whose forefather came from Asia). So we listen for “La Vida Es Un Carnaval,” because they always play it and everyone knows the words…
Ay, no hay que llorar
Que la vida es un carnaval
Y las penas se van cantando…
I could tell you my pain over those that died, and how mad I am that the “others” non queers, non trans, non Latinxs are usurping our pain to move their own agenda. But I won’t because I am crying and I just want to imagine a club full of happy people dancing their last dance to Celia Cruz without a care in the world.
We know that not all Latinxs have the freedom to let their voices be heard like this. Some are unable to speak out about their feelings because of where they work or live, or because they’re not out to their families or friends or anyone. We’ve set up the tumblr Escúchame for Orlando, a place for queer Latinxs to come together and let our voices be heard about the massacre in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. This is an anonymous space because whether you’re out to the whole world, or just to yourself, you deserve to be heard. You can anonymously submit your thoughts and feelings there if you feel like you need to let them out. We love you.