On June 12, I, much like the rest of the world, awoke to the news of a mass shooting in Orlando, Florida that left 50 dead and another 50+ injured earlier that morning. "The deadliest mass shooting in American history," it's been dubbed. While people have been quick to blame the shooter's religious beliefs for the tragedy, it's important to keep the real motive behind this mass murder in mind: This was an attack of hate against LGBTQIA+ individuals on a Latin-themed dance night.
I've never been to PULSE, the gay nightclub where the tragic, nearly unspeakable events unfolded; but I know many who have. In the years since I finished my undergraduate studies, several friends and family members have made their way to both Orlando and Miami, supposed havens for the LGBTQIA+ community and for Latinos. Never mind that this is a state that voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 Republican primaries. For decades, it's been what a cousin of mine refers to as "Gay Cuba" — a state that has attracted native Spanish speakers and queers alike; the myriad of pastel hues and eternal cocktails and geographic proximity to Latin America all making it seem like home for so many of us.
I logged into Facebook as soon as I heard, checking up on everyone I knew who could have possibly been in attendance at the venue's Latin night. Thankfully, everyone was safe. In body, anyway. Mental health is a different story. But the more news has surfaced — and the more speculation as to whether or not ISIS was responsible and at the heart of the shooter's motives — the less emphasis is seemingly being placed on a simple truth. The LGBTQ community was specifically and violently targeted on June 12. The gunman may or may not have known that this was also a Latin night, but he undoubtedly knew this was a place for ~fags.~ As his father has since theorized, it's possible that the gunman was so enraged at the sight of two men kissing one another that he broke fire.
I don't deny that ISIS is scary; that terrorism is scary; that radical beliefs (whether rooted in religion or otherwise) that specifically target, marginalize, and seek to physically injure if not murder groups of people are scary. I do not, however, believe that one person's actions on the morning of June 12 justify the shaming and perpetuation of falsities against Muslims. I don't believe the only thing at play when one American decided to take 50 lives and nearly 50 more was his religion. Gun control in the U.S. is a real issue. Homophobia is a real issue. And we'd do well to remember as much.
Data from the FBI confirms that between 1980 and 2005, 94 percent of terrorist attacks carried out in the country have been by non-Muslims. According to The Daily Beast, less than 2 percent of terrorist attacks committed across Europe from 2010 to 2015 were committed by Muslims. Yet in 2015, there were 372 mass shootings in America alone; there have been 133 already this year. We need to talk about these numbers. We need to ask ourselves why in this free and glorious nation of ours, we have not managed to "almost eliminate mass shootings," as well as places like the U.K. and Australia. We need to ask ourselves why Americans are 20 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than people in other developed nations.
Besides the rampant and obvious issue that is gun control, however, we also need to ask why in 2016 — a year after the legalization of gay marriage in the U.S. — we are still enabling and supporting other laws that further perpetuate the notion that being LGBTQ is wrong.
It's 2016, gay marriage is legalized, yet North Carolina still put bans into place preventing transgender individuals from using the bathroom assigned to their true gender. It's 2016, and 50 people were butchered at a nightclub for queers. As writer and journalist Mathew Rodriguez wrote on his Twitter, "Every shooting hurts, but a shooting at a Latino night at a gay bar during Immigrant Heritage Month and Pride Month stings a salty sting [...] Talking about the shooter is a distraction from the reality that in America you can kill a room full of queers with ease because of [the Second Amendment]. This was an assault on queers, undocuqueers, Latinos, immigrants, Americans. The men and women I love, my people, mi gente, mi familia."
This was an assault on Latinx individuals; on queers being openly queer; on men who dare kiss other men on the street; on Hispanics who've strayed too far from the Catholic roots so often thrust upon them — the traditional roots that tell them that men who lie with other men are condemnable, damnable, worthy of stoning; roots that tell them that women who kiss other women are whores; roots that tell them that gender is blue or pink. "Please do not omit that this horrific tragedy happened at a GAY bar. It matters. Queer POC were specifically, violently targeted," wrote blogger and editor Nicolette Mason on Twitter. "Do not pretend for a second that anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and legislation in the U.S. has not contributed to this violence. It has. It does."
As a pansexual raised surrounded by Colombian relatives, I'm somewhat familiar with a lot of these aforementioned roots. My current privileges as a cis woman in a relationship with a cis man, and as a Latina with fairer skin who doesn't register on most people's limited and exclusionary internal checklist of "what a Latina looks like" mean I can walk much more freely through the world than so many of the LGBTQ people I know and love. But I remember the rhetoric: The way some family members would raise their eyebrows in disgust at the sight of my male cousin playing with my Barbie dolls when we were six. Que tal si se vuelve gay? What if he becomes gay?
I remember my mother's fear when she stumbled upon a secret notebook I kept with my best friend (the first girl I ever had feelings for) throughout middle school and most of high school. "Lesbian lovers," we'd written on the duct-taped cover, part in jest, part in seriousness, before we really knew what we were feeling or what we were.
I remember my brother's tangible discomfort when he caught a flamboyant and delightful gay man eyeing him up and down at the shopping mall. How dare this man look at him the way so many straight men look at women?
I remember the support for "straight camps" uttered by my aunt after learning that one of her favorite celebrities was queer. The pastor at her church in Medellin gave a slide show presentation on the dangers of homosexual promiscuity and the immeasurable risks this "trend" — largely fueled by American television and shows like Glee, he said — could have upon Colombian youth. I remember when she told me she'd never watch this actor's movies again, while praying to God that he would one day see the errors of his way.
No two families are alike, of course. No two Colombians are alike. No two Hispanics are alike. But I've known a lot of Latinos in my life; and more often than not, similar messaging has been rampant and alive in their upbringings. It takes a lot to break free from that stuff. It takes a lot to tell every person in your family that you are queer, when they truly believe your sexuality will land you a spot alongside Lucifer. It takes a lot to go to a gay club where you will be seen and heard, when you've been conditioned to believe you should not be either.
Whether from a Hispanic or Catholic or agnostic or North American background, coming out and staying out involve a lot of hard work and a lot of fearlessness. I didn't know the Latin queers who were at PULSE. I will never will know how many had relatives or experiences close to my own. But I know that they, and everyone at PULSE that night, was brave. I know that because to be openly and authentically yourself, particularly when you're in a body, subscribe to a sexuality, or identify with a gender that is marginalized and targeted on the regular, is always a political, radical, impressive act.
Gay marriage is legalized in America, but if there is anything June 12's events have proven, it's that we are far from LGBTQ acceptance. On Twitter, writer and transgender activist Janet Mock wrote, "Sending love, healing, and resiliency to those wounded, affected, and grieving in Orlando's LGBTQ community especially Latinx community targeted." We must continue to send love, healing, and resiliency. We must continue to fight for the voiceless; for the marginalized. But we we must also be honest with ourselves.
We must remember that in 2015, gay marriage was legalized in America while there were simultaneously more LGBTQ-related homicides in the nation than ever before. We must remember that Orange Is The New Black and Transparent and Glee and Carol and any other media that offers wonderful portrayals of LGBTQ people does not mean real world treatment of LGBTQ people is quite as just. We must remember how many lives were lost on Sunday morning; how many have been lost throughout history; how many will still be lost.
With every new shooting, with every new public display of transphobia, and with every new statistic proving that demonstrations of hatred, bigotry, and intolerance are amongst the most prevalent things this country has to offer, we must keep questioning why. Why can't transgender people use the bathroom of their true gender? Why can't queers feel safe? And why do we insist on perpetuating the idea that acceptance isn't worth fighting for?