OPINION: Intersectionality and the Orlando Shootings

The majority of victims at Pulse Nightclub were LGBTQ people of color. That detail carries weight.

Candlelight vigil at City Hall for Orlando Shooting victims. Photo by Ernest Owens.

Candlelight vigil at City Hall for the Orlando shooting victims. Photo by Ernest Owens.

Since the weekend, I have not been able to think much about anything besides but the tragic mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. The club had a reputation of having a huge LGBTQ Latinx crowd that lived in their truth and danced to diverse music. Diverse gay bars are a sacred space in which LGBTQ people of color can be themselves in a world where being a double minority in America carries unfair consequences.

Often, people in both the LGBTQ community and the heteronormative party scene would take for granted how privileged they are to go out and not face any forms of discrimination and rejection. When I didn’t fit in at many of the predominately cis-gender white gay bars in Philly, I found personal refuge at XO Lounge — a black/Latinx queer nightclub that comes alive every Saturday night outside the Gayborhood. At XO Lounge, the owner would play black soul music, mixed Afro-Latinx–infused hip-hop, and all the diverse flavors that would be lacking across the rainbow pavements on Locust Street.

When I found out that Pulse was not just a typical nightclub, but a safe space for people that looked like me, I realized that this could have happened directly to me. If I had ever gone to Orlando, I probably wouldn’t have visited the established gay bar in town — I would have looked for the unique magic that diverse places like Pulse facilitate.

Going to the vigil on Monday night at City Hall, I felt the power in local trans activist Deja Lynn Alvarez when she spoke to the crowd and said, “I’m tired of seeing Facebook posts saying why do we have to acknowledge that it was mostly Latin people or why do we have to acknowledge that it was a gay club … BECAUSE IT WAS!”

And therein lies my current frustration: Most of the discussion has attempted to ignore or erase the fact that the most fatal mass shooting in U.S. history happened to people who were of color and LGBTQ. This is a detail that hits at the center of race, sexual orientation, and identity. Members of one of the most vulnerable populations in our society are now among the most numerous victims of a terrorist hate crime in American history. To omit this significant detail from the conversation altogether is just as problematic as not saying anything about the tragedy at all.

What we have seen lately on the national news circuit is a deliberate attempt to switch the focus to gun control, “radical Islam,” and partisan politics. We have yet to see very strong narratives on how the LGBTQ Latinx/black community is dealing with this or how their respective racial communities are responding. Instead, race and/or LGBTQ conversations are being omitted — the intersectionality of this tragedy is so crucial to consider and yet is being dismissed altogether.

Why is that? Perhaps because as a nation, we have not done enough to support LGBTQ people of color. Black and brown queer people still have the highest fatality rates for HIV/AIDS, transgender murder, and youth homelessness. They are, in many ways, the black horse of both of the communities they occupy. When I see many on my social media timelines say nothing about the racial/sexual orientation or identity of the victims, I feel as though there is a sense of shame that is still deep-seated in our public grieving. People don’t want to acknowledge that, until this moment, they never seriously mourned publicly for queer people of color.

This isn’t simply a LGBTQ issue or a race issue — it’s both conflated in a national tragedy that grapples with faith, community, and acceptance. We still live in a society that breeds toxic heteronormative and homophobic viewpoints that sadly transcend racial and gender boundaries and creep deep within our laws and public conduct. New information is coming out that the culprit was a frequent user of gay dating apps and visited Pulse on numerous occasions.

But that doesn’t surprise me at all. This isn’t the first time we have seen self-hate manifest itself into transgressions against others. But this is the most fatal time we had to confront it face-to-face on a world scale — and perhaps that’s even more embarrassing within itself. Because who is going to ask the questions as to why in 2016 are there still racial divisions within our safe spaces? Or why is it hard for some to believe that such LGBTQ spaces can be uplifted by people of color?

LGBTQ people of color have been persecuted at tragic rates for decades. It’s a sad truth that many medical physicians and law enforcement officers have on file, and yet it took until this massacre to start bringing it to light. At this point, we all need to come to a sobering point and acknowledge the neglect. Let go of our petty preferences that exclude, and close the discrimination gap.

When I saw the crowd of diverse LGBTQ members at the vigil at City Hall, that was the first time I had ever seen so much diverse unity in one setting in Philadelphia. I personally never knew there were that many Latinx allies and LGBTQ individuals who were visible in our city. There’s a saying that the only time family comes together is at weddings and funerals; it’s unfortunate that we’re in the latter tier this week.

Hopefully what comes from this is a community refresh — a sense of renewed purpose in increasing acceptance and inclusion in our own Gayborhood and beyond. I hope that intersectionality continues beyond just our LGBTQ circles but within our political and minority-serving institutions, which should finally come to terms with the fact that we are all in this together.

Because when the tears are done falling, hopefully love for all will be the power that pulls us up.