Since the attacks on Pulse nightclub in Orlando early Sunday morning, I’ve had a hard time figuring out how to get past the “anger” stage of my grief. I am angry at the noxious concept of masculinity that caused someone to see two men kissing and became so incensed by it as to want to kill. I am angry that there are people in our country who think owning guns to “protect” themselves is more important than putting an end to the tragedies that have always been the trade-off we are forced to shoulder. Worse still, I am angry at a culture and government that for decades has provoked fear and hatred of the men and women who were dancing at Pulse that night, people so entirely like myself: queer, Latino, seeking community.
This is the fact that haunts me the most: It was Latin night at Pulse.
The first gay person I ever met was a Puerto Rican family friend who grew up with my parents in the projects of the South Bronx, who lives as a teacher in Orlando right now — and is safe, thankfully. My mother has photos of the two of them dressed up for Halloween parties in the ’80s and ’90s, both decked out in drag, serving enough face to last a lifetime. I think about the courage with which he’s lived his life, and about the friends he saw die from AIDS. I think about the cost that kind of loss has on a soul, on a mind, and about the amount of strength that has historically pushed queer men and women to keep on living after experiencing it.
Again: It was Latin night at Pulse.
I think about a Mexican family friend I met for the first time last summer at a dinner party in his apartment in Washington Heights. He had black-and-white photos on the walls: an intimate close-up of a shirtless man, arms folded over his chest; a hazy vision of a gay nightclub not unlike Pulse, a go-go boy in chaps standing atop a platform. He gave me his worn copy of Larry Kramer’s Faggots before I left, after he saw me flipping through it on his bookshelf. Simple as it seemed at the time, that act means more to me now than I can express. Queer people of color often pass things down to one another, artifacts of our endurance in the face of a society that has condemned us, that continues to condemn us — a legacy of both pain and resistance reshaped into nourishment to help our community grow stronger still.
I think about the defiance that both of these men — and all queer people of color — have embodied simply by existing, by surviving. It is a trait they have passed on to me, one that I am holding on to more closely now than ever before.
And again: It was Latin night at Pulse.
Some news organizations have already tried to paper over the fact that this was an attack against the LGBTQ community. And just as the context of this atrocity being targeted at a gay club is completely relevant to conversations going forward about gun control, homophobia, and how to react after acts of violence, it is also crucial to remember that Latinx people made up the majority of the roughly 300 inside Pulse on Saturday night. The names of the victims that the city of Orlando has released continue to break my heart, over and over again. They were men and women of overwhelmingly Latinx descent who were participating in acts of historic queer rebellion — kissing, dancing, performing onstage, enjoying each other’s company as a group — without knowing it would be their last opportunity to do so.
I’m finding that the anger I feel, that so many of us feel, is fuel — fuel we can use together. In a year in which the presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party has spewed hateful rhetoric about Latinx people with impunity, a year that began with nearly 200 anti-LGBTQ bills in statehouses, a year that’s on track to count at least as many anti-trans homicides as the last — we still have each other. And for those of us who were specifically targeted this past weekend — brown and black and queer — we will not forget how much power that fact holds.