Do you remember?
Orlando. Pulse. 50 dead, 53 wounded.
This occurred at a gay club, on Latinx night. Let’s be clear about that. The media, your social circles, your pastors, probably glossed over this detail. The victims were queer and trans people of color, many of them Puerto Rican like myself. Innocent lives, gunned down in senseless brutality.
Bodies that were queer and brown, just like me.
There is a profound horror in that.
It arrests me at every moment, washing over me in waves.
It could have been me, I tell myself, over and over.
It could have been me.
Fifty people, out to celebrate, out to have fun, out to escape a world that continues to treat them with contempt and malice, out to seek refuge on a dance floor, will never come home again. I read their names. I read their stories. I see their faces. I read the comments left by loved ones. I weep. I feel numb. Then pain comes and washes over me again.
My friend Chris Stedman summed up the pain so many of us LGBTQ people are feeling when he said, “To be queer in this world is to live in the shadow of violence.”
The shadow is even larger if you’re a queer/trans person of color.
When I walk by the library, my mind flashes back to the moment when I was followed out of the building by two men who punched me in the face for wearing a rainbow armband.
When I walk by my old high school, the daily taunts of “faggot,” “fairy,” “homo,” which were often mixed in with “spic” and other racist slurs, ring in my ears.
When my family gathers together in prayer, I am taken back to that moment years ago when they gathered in my living room to pray over me, no one mentioning why, yet I knew full well they were praying would God would deliver me from my “sin.” I remember the pastor who told my mother I needed to change, and who the next time I saw him gave me a hug, as if he hadn’t insinuated that I was going to go to hell just a few days earlier.
When I’m out on a date, I recall the moment when a stranger muttered something about Sodom and Gomorrah under his breath just for seeing me with my arm around another man. The uneasy stares of passersby and the whispered comments of “How disgusting…” echo in my head whenever I nervously take the hand of another man in public.
When I see queer couples out, holding hands, enjoying each other’s company, I smile, but I am also afraid for them. I watch the faces of people who pass by them, looking for discomfort. I hate that it has to be this way.
We have all had these experiences. This is the world we escape in our bars and clubs. This is the world we need refuge from in our safe spaces. This is what fifty queer and trans people of color were getting away from, only to have it violently spill into their refuge. This is what reminds me every single day that I am never safe. I am always a target.
This is what reminds me of my own mortality.
There are family members, friends, colleagues, who to this day still skirt around my sexuality, who are afraid to name it and see all of me for me, or who acknowledge it quietly, in hushed tones. The same people didn’t say a word to me about this tragedy.
I’m sure they saw the slew of posts I made about this and scrolled past, not understanding why I am so broken up – that’s because they will never understand what it feels like to be afraid to hold their partner’s hand in public or kiss them on the cheek; they will never understand what it feels like to have politicians and pastors blame you for the country’s ills; they will never understand what it feels like to see fifty people who look like you, who loved as you love, murdered because someone was angered by their very existence.
This is not to make this tragedy about the way they treat me, but their silence speaks volumes about what they feel about LGBTQ people.
I want to speak to those folks directly, right now.
The fact is, every day there is always a risk that someone who hates LGBTQ people may decide to act on that anger and hatred in their heart and wish to do harm to me, or someone else close to you.
The fact is, there may come a day when I am taken from you – by a gun, a knife, or angry fists – because someone decided that my existence pollutes the world, that my life and countless other lives are disposable.
That is a fear I carry in my mind every single day, because I see violence visited upon people like me every single day.
I say this not because I want you to pity us. I say this because it is up to you to work for a world where this is no longer our reality. If you love me, you will decry this violence. If you love me, you will work to see it end.
If you love me, then see all of me.
Because there may come a day when you will not get the chance.
For my own part, I do not plan on slinking back into the closet. It is not where I belong.
If anything, I want to live life more fully now. For my own part, to honor my queer/trans people of color family, I will continue working for a world where one day, this will no longer be our reality, where all of ourselves are honored and recognized. I will not live the rest of my days afraid and alone. I will be proud. I will live out my life the way God intended.
May all of the departed rest in power.