“They Are Our Dead”: LGBTQ Latinos Speak Out After Orlando

Photo: Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images.
"Ellos Son Nuestros Muertos." They are our dead. That was the chilling headline that appeared Tuesday on the front page of El Nuevo Día, Puerto Rico's largest newspaper. Alongside the headline were photos of some of the victims of the Orlando shooting. Out of the 49 lives that were claimed by violence this past Sunday at the Pulse nightclub, 23 of them were Puerto Rican. In total, 90% of the victims were of Latino origin, multiple media outlets have reported. As LGBTQ people throughout the country mourn the victims of the tragedy, Latino activists have taken this opportunity to call more attention to the issues that concern queer people of color. "The mainstream queer community is erasing brown and Black folks. This was the mass murder of Puerto Rican queers,” activist Louie A. Ortiz-Fonseca told Refinery29. “And while we don’t compare the death of Black and brown to each other, it’s important that we name this for what it is.”
Ortiz-Fonseca cofounded the multimedia project, The Gran Varones, which is dedicated to telling the stories of Latino and Afro-Latino gay, queer, and trans men. He believes that media outlets, politicians, and even other activists have failed to convey that there were multiple layers to the attack. The shooter targeted the LGBTQ community as well as Latinos; he also took the lives of undocumented immigrants. For Ortiz-Fonseca and others, it's important to talk about the many facets of the victims' identities. “Saying, ‘Let’s not talk about who was there’ when referring to the LGBTQ community and the Latino community erases their experiences,” said Victoria Rodríguez-Roldán, director of the Trans/Gender Non-Conforming Justice Project at the National LGBTQ Task Force. “You’re even losing sight of the magnitude of this tragedy.”

This was the mass murder of Puerto Rican queers.

Louie A. Ortiz-Fonseca, The Gran Varones
Rodríguez-Roldán added that she had been afraid for some time that a queer space would be attacked. But Sunday’s tragedy took on a new meaning for her because there was only “one degree of separation” between her and the victims. "I didn’t know, personally, any of them, but I know a lot of people whose friends or acquaintances were there. They were friends of my friends," she said. Many studies have found that people of color are more likely to experience violence than their white counterparts. According to a report published by the National Anti-Violence Project, 13 out of 24 LGBTQ homicide victims in 2015 were transgender women of color. When it comes to survivors of violence, 60% identified themselves as people of color in the same poll. Ortiz-Fonseca — who’s a queer, Black Puerto Rican — called for the mainstream LGBTQ community to be particularly aware of the needs of people of color after this tragedy.
“Pride is still political and it’s still necessary. And in places like Philadelphia, boricuas come out, dominicanos come out, mexicanos come out. Right? Like, they show up, but under the expectation that they bend to what mainstream gay culture expects us to do. And while we should march harder and we should yell louder, we should also be able to do that unapologetically,” he said. “This was definitely an attack what was fueled by anti-Blackness and just disregard for brown and Black bodies in this country, especially those that are queer.” The problems with race and ethnicity in the LGBTQ community have been documented before. According to a 2015 study by researchers at the University of New South Wales in Australia, 84% of gay and bisexual men of color interviewed said they had experienced some form of racism within the gay community.

Saying, ‘Let’s not talk about who was there’ when referring to the LGBTQ community and the Latino community erases their experiences.

Victoria Rodríguez-Roldán, National LGBTQ Task Force
Rodríguez-Roldán can attest that, for some of the Latinos she knows in the LGBTQ community, this is the case, as well. “Often, the Latino LGBTQ community feels like — among the other problems and challenges they face as a community — they feel like they’re excluded inside the mainstream LGBTQ community. That they are treated as tokens, their needs ignored,” said Rodríguez-Roldán. She insisted on how important it is to understand intersectionality among LGBTQ people, not only when it comes to race and ethnicity, but also when talking about economic class, religion, and disabilities among the members of the community. “[Intersectionality] can’t be a slogan. All of our activism should move towards promoting diversity,” she said. Although he lives in Washington, D.C., some 800 miles away from Orlando, Ortiz-Fonseca had a message of hope for the LGBTQ community in the wake of this tragedy. "We are magical beings that create and transform our community with every breath and every step that we take. And to everyone else I say that every time you see a femme boy, a maricón, a queen, a sissy, or a Black and brown queer boy strutting down the street…That sight should make you proud," Ortiz-Fonseca said.

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