The massacre in Orlando is a heartbreaking tragedy. It's hard to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer - you can't be yourself in every moment without the threat of physical or emotional violence. Homophobia, racism and xenophobia remain prevalent in our world.
- It matters that it is Pride month and this was a gay club. Clubs and bars have always played the role of sanctuaries for the LGBTQIA+ communities. They provide coverage for people who want to be able to dance, hang out with friends, where what they want to wear free (even for just a few hours) from the pressures and judgements of society.
- It matters that the victims were young Latinx men (many were Puerto Rican). According to the CDC, Hispanics/Latinos are disproportionately affected by HIV. 7 in 10 new HIV diagnoses among Hispanics/Latinos occur in gay and bisexual men. Despite this reality, Latinx queer men do not often see themselves reflected in HIV outreach and social service programs.
- It matters that this massacre happened in Orlando. Orlando holds the second largest population of Puerto Ricans off the island of Puerto Rico (over 1 million people). The population continues to grow quickly because of the economic crisis currently happening in Puerto Rico is experiencing a severe economic crisis and people are leaving the island by the thousands to find work in the mainland USA.
- It matters that Puerto Rico is experiencing a severe economic crisis. The reason why Puerto Rico is in crisis is because of the colonial relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. The Jones Act of 1917 effectively made it illegal for Puerto Ricans to control their own economic and political destiny. U.S. Congress has been slow to act. Because Puerto Rico is a colony, it cannot declare bankruptcy. As the island continues to default on it debt payments, the civic and physical infrastructure continues to crumble, residents are fleeing the island and those who cannot afford to move face a uncertain future. These are American citizens.
- It matters that it was the same day as the National Puerto Rican Day parade in New York City. New York is home to the largest population outside of Puerto Rico. We have been coming to New York since the early 1900's, with peak migration being in the 40's and 50's. Despite these migrations, Puerto Ricans have maintained a fierce pride and connection to the island. The Puerto Rican Day parade is one day of the year where Puerto Ricans have self-authority to celebrate their culture and identity in a city that has been our home away from home for over 75 years.
- It matters that one of the first questions people were asking is if the shooter was a U.S. Citizen. Because the subtext is to say that the criminal immigrant is a plague our society. But in fact, any American citizen can get (and has gotten) a gun to shoot up a movie theater, school, club, university, a train, a backyard BBQ or place of employment for and reason they find. Donald Trump has successfully given voice to the damaging belief that immigrants are the root of all problems in the United States. This mythical character has become a scapegoat, instead of holding ourselves accountable for policies and procedures that have a built a society that produces human beings that are capable of committing mass murders with powerful guns.
- It matters that the massacre occurred the week before Father's Day. It underlines how isolating being a part of the LGBTQ community can be. How many family relationships were not repaired before a loved one was taken from this world? How many victims do not have a support system to turn to with their grief, or even worse, to manage (and pay for) their funeral and burial? These were young, queer, people of color - there was no logical reason for them to be planning for their death so soon.
The investigation is still on-going and there is many things we do not yet know. I can only guess as to what was truly in the gunman's heart as he made the calculated, horrible, decision to commit mass murder. Whatever his motivations, the (mis)information he used to make those decisions were based on fundamental, oppressive beliefs that only serve to devalue the lives of those do not fit his very narrow idea of what "worthy" means.
I feel a profound sadness. I ask my community to ensure that they are being affirming of a variety of lifestyles, to be compassionate to people who are different from them and to be open to learning new ways of doing things.
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