June 21, 2016 at 1:02 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Latino LGBT community reeling from Orlando massacre

Axel Rodríguez of Orlando, Fla., holds a Puerto Rican flag with rainbow colors on it during a memorial service on June 13, 2016, that paid tribute to the victims of the Pulse Nightclub massacre. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Axel Rodríguez of Orlando, Fla., holds a Puerto Rican flag with rainbow colors on it during a memorial service on June 13, 2016, that paid tribute to the victims of the Pulse Nightclub massacre. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Latino LGBT community in Orlando and across the country continues to reel from the Pulse Nightclub massacre.

Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, a Puerto Rican LGBT advocacy group, told the Washington Blade on Monday that 23 of the 49 people who died inside the Orlando nightclub on June 12 were LGBT Puerto Ricans.

Serrano said he attended funerals for three of the victims that took place in the U.S. commonwealth on Monday.

A vigil took place in the Puerto Rican city of Mayagüez on Monday. The Puerto Rican Bar Association is scheduled to hold a separate vigil on Tuesday, while a third will take place in Boquerón on Wednesday.

“We are hurting,” Serrano told the Blade. “Our collective heart is in pieces, but we will come of this stronger.”

Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro García Padilla issued a statement on June 12 in which he expressed “our solidarity and prayer with the Puerto Rican victims and survivors and their families.” He also said “hate and terror have no place in our society.”

“All marginalized communities have in me an ally who will continue the struggle for equal rights,” said García.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz last week put forth a resolution that repudiated homophobia and expressed solidarity with the victims’ families. Ricky Martin is among those from the U.S. commonwealth who also condemned the massacre that took place during the Pulse Nightclub’s Latino night.

“The tragedy that occurred in Orlando hurts in so many ways,” wrote the gay Puerto Rican singer in an op-ed that Univision published on June 15. “It hurts me as a man, as a human being, as a gay person, because many of the victims were brothers and sisters from the LGBT community. This causes me pain, sadness and indignation.”

Central Florida church ‘impacted directly’ by massacre

Dominicans and Cubans were also among those who died inside the Pulse Nightclub. Mexicans, Ecuadorians, Salvadorans and Venezuelans also lost their lives in the massacre.

Gay U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster and his husband, Bob Satawake, were among the hundreds of people who attended a candlelight vigil for the three Dominican victims on June 14 that took place in Santo Domingo’s Duarte Park.

Roughly 200 people who attended a discussion about LGBT films at a Havana theater on June 16 observed a moment of silence in honor of those who died inside the Pulse Nightclub. Orquídea Martínez, the mother of Alejandro Barrios Martínez, who is one of the two Cuban nationals who were killed in the massacre, was able to travel to Orlando from her home in the province of Pinar del Río after she received a visa from the U.S. government.

A Macy’s employee at Orlando’s Mall at Millenia who described herself as a “transsexual” Latina was wearing a rainbow bracelet in honor of the Pulse Nightclub massacre victims on June 15. She told the Blade that managers handed them out to employees earlier in the day.

Rev. Carmen Meléndez of Centro Cristiano Casa de Misericordia in Kissimmee, Fla., said during a memorial service at the Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal in Orlando on June 15 that an uncle of one of her church’s congregants died inside the Pulse Nightclub.

“Our church was impacted directly by this situation,” said Meléndez.

Jorge Amaro of the National LGBTQ Task Force, Carlos Guillermo Smith of Equality Florida and Joel Morales of the GLBT Community Center of Central Florida were among the hundreds of people who attended the memorial service at the Pentecostal church.

“At least 49 people were murdered and the majority of those people were LGBTQ Latino,” Amaro told the Blade during an emotional interview that took place outside the church as the memorial service was taking place. “[The massacre] has certainly affected us as LGBTQ people, but certainly a lot of the friends and family of those who were murdered are Latino.”

National LGBTQ Task Force National Campaigns Director Victoria Kirby-York, who is from Orlando, and Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin are among the activists who traveled to the city in the days after the Pulse Nightclub massacre.

GLBT Community Center of Central Florida Executive Director Terry DeCarlo, who is of Puerto Rican descent, told the Blade during an interview at his office on June 15 that his organization and other local advocacy groups were giving gift cards to victims’ family members who traveled to Orlando from other countries so they could buy clothes and other personal items they may have not brought with them. The Central and South Florida Chapters of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and Immigration Equality announced on June 17 they will provide immigration-related services to any survivor of the Pulse Nightclub massacre or the victims’ families.

“I myself, being a Latin and a lesbian, can only imagine what the families are feeling in the Latin community,” Roxy Santiago, who is a member of the HRC Orlando/Central Florida Steering Committee and the Democratic Hispanic Caucus, told the Blade last week during a telephone interview.

‘Words are very powerful’

The Pulse Nightclub massacre took place against the backdrop of increased anti-immigrant rhetoric in the U.S.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump last week reiterated his call to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the U.S. and suspend immigration from areas “when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe and our allies.” The billionaire sparked widespread outrage last June when he compared Mexicans to “rapists” during his campaign announcement in New York.

A report the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs released last week indicates the number of LGBT people reported killed in the U.S. increased by 20 percent between 2014 and 2015. It also notes 62 percent of the 24 documented murder victims were of people of color, including three who were either Latino or Latina.

A statement that more than 100 Latino LGBT groups and allied organizations released on Monday in response to the Pulse Nightclub massacre said “we must recognize and address all the toxic components of this hateful act: Homophobia, transphobia, racism and sexism.”

“We are concerned that the current anti-Muslim narrative will plant seeds of fear that will fester into hate,” reads the statement. “We are concerned that some will use this tragedy to prevent our movements from building bridges, understanding, and love between people of color, LGBTQ people, and other marginalized communities.”

“We state our steadfast support of LGBTQ Muslims and their communities who live under a cloud of suspicion and threats of violence also, understanding that our prospects for liberation are interlinked,” it adds.

Amaro made a similar point as he spoke to the Blade outside Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal on June 15.

“Words are very powerful,” he said. “Words can influence people’s ideas and mentality. Words — especially hate — and rhetoric of hate leads to actions.”

“We must work a lot harder to create a world free from hate,” added Amaro.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

1 Comment
  • The attack was homophobic because they picked a gay club but also racist since most people were Latino.

    I do take exception with people saying he was gay. He had his wife drive him there and she was aware of what he was doing. A gay man living a double life doesn’t involve his wife unless they are swingers into a threesome. He was there to stalk his prey like an animal.

    The guys own father said it was triggered by this guy seeing two men kiss and whining about it.

    I think he was a methodical planner, brazen and arrogant enough to frequent the club to not only make his move but gain the courage to make it. He knew there would be no going back.

    The gay hookup sites he was on were also likely to look for individual victims. Like a serial killer looking for practice.

    There have been gay serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer and Andrew Cunanan but I just don’t buy into allegations that this specific guy was gay. The others didn’t have a wife in tow. The MO wasn’t the same. People are labeling him gay to somehow diminish the crime and deflect the homophobia.

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