Don’t Erase LGBT Latinos for Unity’s Sake

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June 15, 2016

As we try to absorb and work though our grief from the mass shooting in Orlando, one community that is so central to this story has, at times, gone unacknowledged: LGBT Latinas/os, and LGBT Puerto Ricans, in particular.

Saturday night was Latin night at the Pulse night club and its patrons reflected the increasing Latina/o diversity of Central Florida. Most victims were Latina/o, a few were undocumented and over half were of Puerto Rican descent.

One cannot read the names of the victims and not be horrified by the grave toll this tragedy will take on these communities, not only in Orlando but also in Puerto Rico. Across Latino communities in the US, we feel this loss. Our yearning for unity and healing cannot leave us color blind.

I have been moved to tears reading the accounts of victims and survivors reaching out to their parents for support and comfort, especially when the loving bonds in our families are so rarely highlighted in the media. I wish it were under different circumstances, but it’s important that the world see that we are loved and cherished and desperately needed by our families, churches and communities. As we are learning, many of the victims contributed to their families, financially and emotionally; they were the hopes and dreams of their parents, the bedrock for their friends and co-workers.

I know that there are not enough LGBT-affirming resources across the country for Latinas/os, especially in Spanish. LGBT Latinas/os and their families may not know where to turn to for help and support. This can be especially true in places like Orlando that have experienced more recent increases in their Latina/o population. According to the Census, the Puerto Rican community in Florida has more than doubled since 2000, with the Orlando metro region leading the state in 2013 with the highest number of Puerto Ricans.

While having made progress, both the LGBT and Latina/o advocacy movements need to continue to further integrate the needs of LGBT Latinas/os into each other’s agenda. We need more coming out and family acceptance services, LGBT-inclusive immigrant integration, and transnational advocacy networks. This tragedy illustrates the urgency behind these needs.

Many times, as advocates, we focus on the egregious cases of family rejection or the higher rates of homelessness and violence amongst other hardships that LGBT Latinas/os face, in order to speak out about these injustices and call for changes. For those who do not know us and our lives, these challenges come to define our experience. That is not the whole story of who we are, as the images of grief and accounts of love attest. And today, we are also more than victims.

In the wake of this tragedy, LGBT Latinas/os and our allies are stepping up. Please follow these national efforts to learn more about ourcollective response to this tragedy: Familia Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Union=Fuerza ; seek out your local LGBT Latina/o organizations and join Lambda Legal in helping to make gun violence an LGBT issue and continuing to fight against discrimination and violence.