By Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez
When I was 22 years old, I went to my first gay club in South Beach. It was magical. I had finally found a place where I could celebrate being my full and authentic self. It was a place to dance and smile, with lots and lots of glitter. When I woke up Sunday, I heard the news. A shooter had killed 49 people and left another 53 wounded in an Orlando gay club. The victims were primarily LGBTQ people of color.
A gay club is a sanctuary, it’s a place we come together to breath deep again, to take off our mask and put down our guard. Though it might sound trite, for me it was true. Clubs like Pulse are a home for marginalized LGBTQ people who may have been rejected by their family or even by society as a whole.
They’re a church for those who were expelled from their faith because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. They’re a brief breath of fresh air in the midst of nearly-constant contamination from hatred and violence. Anyone who has been afraid of holding their partner’s hand in public knows the importance of these spaces. Pulse was an oasis — and last Sunday it was de-sanctified by bigotry and bullets.
I spent several years organizing in the LGBTQ and Latinx community in Central Florida and I have many friends in the area. The attack in Orlando has had a profound impact on me, as it has on other members of the LGBTQ community.
I’m still trying to understand that impact. I feel pressure to understand it, to name it, to quantify it — and quickly. At the same time that I feel pressure to figure it out, I feel guilt about taking the time necessary to do so. LGBTQ people of color never get to rest — and the one place where we could rest a bit is now unsafe.
When I saw the list of names, I saw myself in each and every one of them. Last Sunday was Latin night at Pulse — the promotional flyer promised a night of Merengue, Salsa, Bachata, and Reggaeton. These are my favorite types of dancing music and, if I were still living in Central Florida, I probably would’ve convinced my friends to drive there with me. It’s not every day, especially in Central Florida, that a queer or trans Latinx person can find a space to celebrate our culture fully.
Several politicians have taken advantage of the situation to spew hate against Muslims and to try to drive a wedge between communities. Let’s be clear — the Christian Right in the United States has been driving homophobic and transphobic attacks domestically and abroad for decades.
They have been using vicious religious rhetoric to dehumanize LGBTQ people. This year alone, politicians have introduced over 200 bills across the country that would marginalize, criminalize, or otherwise harm me and my community.
It’s important to remember that this is a time for our communities to unite. We should resist any attempt to allow the same people who have viciously attacked LGBTQ people to use this tragedy to score political points against other marginalized communities.
We must remember that the Muslims who are being targeted by politicians and police are also our people — they are queer and trans, and want to dance and be free just like I do.
After hearing Sunday’s news, I was so distraught that I couldn’t focus for a few days. It was hard to make out how to function in a world where it’s so dangerous to be me. I’m used to scanning my environment — paying attention to people’s actions — and it’s not the first time I’ve been afraid of showing my queerness in public.
But this took it to a deeper level. It is still very dangerous to be an LGBTQ person of color in the United States.
We’re now halfway through Pride Month, and the only way that I can even dream of moving forward is to find strength through our collective struggle for liberation.
I personally believe healing can only happen in collective spaces through participation in our beloved community. For everyone who is LGBTQ and reading this post, know that we love you. It’s hard to believe, but we have a lot of people who care about us. Don’t lose hope, keep your head up high.
The struggle against transphobia, homophobia, xenophobia, and Islamophobia will continue. It’s up to us to resist the people and the institutions that try to divide and dehumanize us. Here are a few things you could do to help folks in Orlando:
Hold the names of those lost close to your heart. For me, honoring their memories means doubling my commitment and passionate struggle for full liberation so no LGBTQ person will ever have to mourn another’s loss due to division and hatred. I hope you will join me.
This weekend, I’m going to the LGBTQ Latinx club in Jackson Heights, NYC, because this is my small way to resist. I will keep dancing and laughing. I won’t let hate win over my heart. I can’t and I won’t stop the music. Please don’t stop the music.
This post originally appeared on GetEQUAL blog.