Commentary: Remember Orlando's Latino victims

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People light candles in Ponce, Puerto Rico, during a vigil on June 13 for the victims of the Orlando shootings.

By Taylor Hosking

As members of Galaei approached the microphone at Philadelphia's City Hall vigil for Orlando, they asked Latino members of the audience to step toward the front and for non-Latinos to make room.

Hesitant at first, the crowd started moving. Speaker Nikki Lopez read a passage by Latina scholar Gloria Anzaldúa's "To Live in the Border Lands" connecting queerness to Hispanic heritage. She introduced the passage, using the gender-neutral term Latinx, saying, "oftentimes, because so many of our lives are erased as queer Latinx people, we forget the legacies of those who have fought before us. Queer Latinx people live on the borderlands of many different identities."

When the speeches were over, Galaei, the city's leading lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) organization for Hispanics, started a chant, "Somos Latinos; estamos unidos" (We are Latinos; we are united), before proceeding out of the crowd carrying tall rainbow flags.

Galaei's mission was to ensure that Latinos had a significant role in the somber event. This is understandable. In the frenzy to figure out what happened in Orlando, how the event should be categorized, and what major discussions should come out of it, the narrative of the Latino LGBTQ community was almost forgotten.

The massacre put many different issues of national interest at the forefront: domestic terrorism, gun control, mental health, Islamophobia, and LGBTQ rights. Republicans such as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz tried to frame the disaster as a consequence of the Obama administration being weak on terrorism. President Obama and other politicians framed their initial responses largely in relation to the ISIS threat and gun control, with side-note sympathies for the LGBTQ community and Orlando. Media outlets scrambled to put together details about the shooter that could help explain whether the massacre was intended to be an act of terrorism or a hate crime against the LGBTQ community.

"It's important that when we're talking about this event, we talk about it holistically," said Francisco Cortez, program coordinator at Galaei. "This was a hate crime toward the LGBT community and the Latino community. There has been a lack of emphasis on the fact that more than half of the people murdered were Latinos, and look at the numbers on Puerto Ricans alone. It's important that we talk about gun control and domestic terrorism and Islamophobia, but we also have to talk about the pain that the Latino community is feeling after this incident."

Whether the shooter had a particular grievance with Latinos or not, the massacre is inextricably linked to the specific history of Latino LGBTQ people and the politics of spaces for people of color within the LGBTQ community. A place where LGBTQ people can gather to dance bachata, merengue, and reguetón is hard to come by when the more iconic music associated with LGBTQ culture is typically house music.

There have always been tensions within the LGBTQ community around race and class in ways that parallel discussions of privilege in the broader society. As Elizabeth Flynn from the Mazzoni Center, an LGBTQ health organization, said, "It's important for people to understand that the LGBTQ population is just as diverse as the regular population. There's not one issue that unites us. While marriage was an important step, there are significant obstacles facing vulnerable populations within the LGBT community. The day-to-day experience of the LGBT person of color is going to be different. There are things that we have in common and things that impact us in very different and specific ways."

Cortez uses the example of Galaei's founding purpose to illustrate this point. Galaei was started to provide language- and culture-specific support to Latinos affected by HIV who were not being fully supported by the services that race-neutral nongovernmental organizations offered at the time.

Understanding the meaning of diversity within the LGBTQ community matters in how we discuss Orlando, in the way we can come together to heal, and in shaping future efforts toward progress for LGBTQ issues.

We can grieve collectively, as a nation, as LGBTQ people, or as allies, but we must also ensure that Latinos, who are too often marginalized within the LGBTQ community, are front and center when its members are the central victims of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Taylor Hosking is an intern with the Inquirer Editorial Board. thosking@philly.com