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My Queer Latino Heart Aches for Orlando Victims


The Latino element to the Orlando story is why I will forever feel wounded; it’s just too damn personal for an out brown boy like me.

Names of victims from top left to right: Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35, Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26, Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25, Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22, Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, 25, Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35.

I keep scanning over the final list of victims from Sunday's senseless massacre, one that features dozens of brown faces that look like mine attached to ethnic names that sound like mine. The only real difference between us is geography and, now, tragedy.

Some were amusement park attendants, others artists, a few were recent students, a handful were couples. But above all, most of those killed or injured were beloved members of the local Orlando community, and both the LGBT and Latino populations at large.

Despite rampant speculation about terrorist connections or repressed sexuality, we'll never truly know if the gunman explicitly targeted Pulse's Latino patrons at an event designed for them and their supporters. It's incredibly hard to gloss over the fact, though, that this particular demographic, of which I happily ascribe to, disproportionately lost members on a night that already claimed too many lives to begin with.

The scariest aspect of this story is that it could've been any of us, anywhere. I was out dancing this past Sunday morning with friends who have also expressed interest in attending a Latin Night event here in New York City. So why is it that WE were allowed to commemorate someone's life, while several of our LGBT brothers and sisters were losing theirs simply because of location? Where's the logic in that?

And the truth of the matter is, if I lived in the area, I definitely would've been there that night with my fellow queer Latinos, imbibing in the culture we love so deeply. In fact, if my entire life events had played out exactly the same in Orlando, my Latina Catholic mother would be learning I was gay from the coroner right now. I say that as someone who waited until he was 22 to come out to his Mexican-American family because of cultural and religious reasons, though I was no stranger to gay establishments. Based on the most recent information provided by authorities, I would have either been the same age or slightly older than a number of the casualties.

That alone is the source of much of my pain this week, knowing that it's quite possible that several queer kids murdered as they celebrated their Latin heritage over the weekend are posthumously being forced out of the closet by a deranged man who refused to acknowledge the strength, pride, and complexity associated with one's journey, particularly one shaped by race and ethnicity. And if that's the case, which version of their child will these families grieve for in the coming days, especially now that we've heard from loved ones of Latino victims who feel they can't comment on their respective losses without upsetting stunned relatives?

I honestly feel as though that adds to the devastation. I know firsthand just how difficult it is to fully embrace your sexual or gender identity when you come from a Latino household defined by factors like faith or machismo; when you walk into rooms where words like joto and maricon are sprinkled into casual conversation; when you look around and (rightly) assume that the LGBT movement oftentimes neglects your diverse existence. Plain and simple, it's tough being a minority twice over.

Because let's be frank: those of us from the barrios of Gay America have persistently looked on from the outskirts wondering when we'd finally get a seat at the brand name-sponsored table during Pride. And in waiting for that invitation, we've actively created our own opportunities to contribute to our country's rainbow-hued narrative that currently skews toward one end of the spectrum.

That's why I, like most queer Latinos I know, flock toward each other and host events designed to honor our unique background; it's not because we crave isolation from the whole, but because we've become accustomed to thriving as our part. We are just so used to figuratively, and also quite literally, speaking a different language than our LGBT compadres that we form these ghettoized pockets to feel an ounce of legitimacy.

And I love knowing that these individuals chose to attend Pulse that night to unapologetically be themselves and to relish in both their Latino and LGBT cultures the exact same way you and I have learned to do. I think that's what I'll remember most as I march in New York City's Pride Parade at the end of this month, albeit with a very heavy heart.

I'm sure that much of the discussion coming out of this hateful attack will center on its effect on the overall LGBT population, as it should. And the thought that this occurred hours before Los Angeles police thwarted an unrelated attack on that city's Pride Parade is just as terrifying. But the Latino element to the Orlando story is why I will forever feel wounded; it's just too damn personal for an out brown boy like me.

I've always said that being openly LGBT is among the biggest political statements one can make with their life. So let's make sure that this Pride, 49 of those declarations are heard loud and clear because #SomosOrlando.

Xorje Olivares is a radio personality and writer based in New York City. You can follow him at @XorjeO.

Below, listen to Olivares speak about the Orlando shooting on SiriusXM:

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Xorje Olivares