It could have been me. I could have had my body riddled with bullets, my blood spilled, clothes drenched, crawling for my life on the dance floor of a gay bar.
I had just returned from a Brooklyn gay bar, my queer friends and I dancing with drag queens to celebrate Brooklyn Pride, when I opened Twitter and saw that another shooting was taking place. As I sat on my bed refreshing my timeline trying to find facts it quickly became clear the victims of America’s latest mass violence were Latinx – a gender neutral term for the Latino community – queer individuals.
Forty-nine black and brown queer and allied bodies slain under disco lights by a gunman wielding an assault rifle. Bodies that were once grinding to the sounds of Reggaeton now laid across the dance floor like a mass grave. I stayed awake as long as my tired eyes could handle, reading updates. Waking up Sunday morning I prayed the tweets I saw just a few hours before were from a nightmare. Instead, I found it was not a bad dream but a real life horror as the names and faces of the victims were released.
There are layers to the violence enacted early Sunday morning at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. As many have expressed, nightclubs are places of sanctuaries for individuals who have historically not been accepted by society. Gay nightclubs are a place for celebration of the freaks, the femmes, the faggots. Not because of the hedonism that some people assume these clubs are havens for, but because at gay nightclubs, no one has to hide. It’s the one place you can be exactly who you would be every other day of the week, if not for the threat of violence, bullying, or retribution. Exclusively queer places are some of the only spaces where my community is feels welcomed, without the caveats the outside world requires of them.
This was an act of terror meant to keep LGBT people in the shadows. Since Saturday night’s shooting, there have been half a dozen reports of other threats of violence. A man in Brooklyn, just blocks from where I live, was arrested for making threats of violence outside of a gay bar. Individuals in San Diego, Atlanta, Los Angeles have also been investigated for similar threats.
The act of violence in Orlando was carried out against a community already suffering from disproportionate rates of murders, suicides and violence. We won the battle of marriage equality only to see our trans siblings lose their fight to be able to use the bathroom without being attacked. For weeks, headlines have been dominated with politicians vilifying trans citizens simply wanting the right to peacefully pee. This massacre happened in a gay nightclub – one of the few places where no one in my community has to fear being assaulted in the bathroom.
Even worse, it wasn’t just an assault on LGBT people, it was a mass murder of queer Latinx individuals, a community marginalized both for their skin color and nationalities, as well as who they love.
I will not whitewash their names. These were queer Latinx taken from us – a reminder that LGBT people of color are twice as likely to face violence than our white siblings. Luis. Juan. Gilberto. Angel. Rodolfo. Javier. These names are family for me, not through blood but by community. We shared heritage, as the victims were Latinx, and mostly Puerto Rican, like myself. We even shared last names. We shared pride in our queerness and our love for la isla del encanto.
On Monday night, I stood with thousands outside of the Stonewall Inn to honor the memory of those lost. I stood in solidarity with my community and said the names of forty-nine lost queer Latinx souls. In front of me in the crowd, a queer Puerto Rican brother, waved a rainbow Puerto Rican flag. He waved it fiercely and fabulously while singing Puerto Rico’s national anthem, “La Borinqueña.” The tears I shed in that moment were both out of anger and sorrow for the lost, and the solidarity I felt with this brother I’d never met before.
La tierra de Borinquen, donde he nacido yo es un jardín florido de mágico primor. Un cielo siempre nítido le sirve de dosel. Y dan arrullos plácidos las olas a sus pies.
“The land of Borinquen, where I was born, is a flowery garden of magical beauty. A constantly clear sky serves as its canopy. And placid lullabies are sung by the waves at its feet.”
That pride – of both heritage and queerness – is what has made this massacre all the more real for me as a bisexual Puerto Rican. The massacre was a stark reminder that I can be murdered in one of the few spaces that accepts me fully as I am. There are layers to this violence, and each that is peeled back reveals new horrors for me and my queer Latinx siblings. We are used to fear. The shooting in Orlando has only served to deepen the fear in the lives of queer people, especially queer Latinx who live in the margins, some undocumented, some trans and non-conforming. This has shaken our community to the core.
It’s the proximity, the alignment of so many of my identities that has left me stricken with unbearable grief. I saw my story mirrored in the faces of those taken from us.
On Tuesday night, I went to a queer club the first time since the shooting. Everything felt different – my world will never be the same. And yet I got dressed, slathered on glitter, and slipped on my high heel shoes. I danced and I cried and I lived for those proud enough to live their truth to their end.
I’m a proud bisexual Puerto Rican man. Forty-nine siblings were taken from me, from us, and our queer world will never be the same. But I’ll dance on, for them.
I may not be bulletproof, but my pride is.