June 23, 2016 at 1:05 pm EST | by Joey DiGuglielmo
Local Latino community hit hard by Orlando shootings
Latinx, gay news, Washington Blade

Hundreds braved the rain on June 16 to attend an Orlando fundraiser at Town Danceboutiqe. Jose Plaza spoke at the fundraiser. (Washington Blade photo by Hugh Clarke)

We asked members of the D.C.-area LGBT Latino community to weigh in on the Orlando tragedy and the issues they face at the intersection of race and sexual orientation.

California native Martin Garcia, 30, came to Washington eight years ago and works as director of campaigns for the Latino Victory Project. Jose Plaza, also from California, has been in D.C. four years. He’s a doctoral student and is president of the Latino GLBT History Project, an organization founded 10 years ago by Jose Gutierrez, a medical case manager and LGBT and AIDS activist who’s been in D.C. since 1993. Maria Alejandra Baltuano grew up in the D.C. area and works in youth organizing and education issues. They all identify as gay except for Baltuano, 26, who identifies as queer.

On the D.C.-area Latinx community: 

GARCIA: “Very strong, a very large and vibrant community. Every time I’m at a Latino night or a GLBT History Project event … I’m always amazed at the turnout. We’re helpful, intentional, conscious. We always invest in each other and lift each other up.”

PLAZA: “We have a really strong network of social activism here and I think because D.C. is so small and a lot of the Latinos here know each other, it’s easier to be active. But there’s also a bubble here in the world of policy and politics and I think one of the key differences is that we also have Latinos who are laborers who are not part of the D.C. political hype. It allows us to deal with issues of housing, labor, immigration and find examples right up the street in Columbia Heights of people who don’t have the policy connections.”

BALTUANO: “We have Maracuyeah, a DJ and live music collective, here that is really about creating safe spaces for queer women of color. It’s really hard to be a Latinx woman of color because the gay culture in D.C. is so male dominated. We need those queer spaces to be our truest selves. … There’s a lot of leadership and organizing for social justice. A lot of people coming together to end police violence, brutality and discrimination, to end all borders, raise the minimum wage here in D.C., (work on) educational justice and so on. There are queer women of color here pushing the envelope.”

Your reaction to the Orlando tragedy:

GUTTIEREZ: “I am still very sad, upset, devastated and in pain. Especially last Wednesday when I read some of the names of the victims during a healing service at Foundry Church. I didn’t know any of the victims, but my love and support are the same for all, the families, our community and all the victims of Orlando.”

BALTUANO: “My initial reaction last Sunday was just crying. I couldn’t stop. Even now, I choke up. … I was just devastated and just wanted to be around other queer Latinx folks.”

The atmosphere at the victim fundraiser at Town Danceboutique on June 16:

GARCIA: “It was such an overwhelmingly positive response. It was raining that night and to still see that amount of people who turned out in droves to just feel community and remember the brothers and sisters we lost and be in that space, and just see how they did not hesitate to donate whether it was $2 or $100, it was just an amazing experience for me, to see the love and strength and support we have.”

PLAZA: “I was moved to tears as I sat in the background with (Town owner) Ed (Bailey). It was amazing how resilient the LGBT community and the Latinx community was in our ability to come together and say, “Not one more. Not in our house.” (Plaza says between 600-800 attended the event which raised about $32,000 for Equality Florida’s Pulse Victims Fund. Visit latinoglbthistory.org to donate. Another event is being held Tuesday, June 28 from 7-10 p.m. at Commissary, located at 1443 P St., N.W.)

On why a fundraiser was important:

PLAZA: “People need to be aware of the challenges the Latinx community faces. That’s why we said right up front, it needed to be a fundraiser. I think close to $5 million has been raised. That may sound like a lot, but if you think about dividing that up among a hundred victims, it’s nothing. A hospital bill alone can be $100,000 or more. You have the bodies of undocumented victims that need to be shipped back. Their families cannot come here and pick up the bodies. What about the mother who left behind 11 children? Forty-thousand dollars is nothing for them. These are issues we deal with on a daily basis.”

On LGBT integration within the Latinx community:

PLAZA: “We have to rally together because we don’t have the luxury of having a lesbian bar, a bear bar and so on. We have one space that is welcoming for all because that’s the only thing we can afford. Often when you step into a Latinx club, if you think about it, it’s really not a Latinx club. It’s a place that has a Latinx party once a month at one of the clubs. So when those nights are held, all our community comes out.”

BALTUANO: “Even that event at Pulse, that was one night a week for a few hours. It’s not like they had that club available to them anytime. So, you know, as people of color, as immigrants and queer people, we go to those places that have events for us and that’s why you saw such diversity among the victims.”

PLAZA: “You don’t see a lot of Latinx people at Cherry or Bear Happy Hour and all that. There’s a strong — I don’t really want to say underground, but there are Latinx parties that are thriving with different club promoters. They might be out in Maryland or in Columbia Heights, but there is a sense of community there that isn’t quite mainstream. It’s where our drag performers are coming out of. There is a queer community in D.C. that exists outside of Nellie’s and Town and it’s important that we recognize that it’s completely queer. … It’s almost like the early days of the gay movement with Stonewall — these are promoters and restaurants opening up their businesses after hours as a dance floor.”

GUTTIEREZ: “They’re like community centers, our houses, our temples, our supporters, our organizers, our place to be and meet friends and spend quality time.”

On the impact of the Orlando tragedy vs. other recent mass shootings:

GARCIA: “They’re all horrific tragedies — Sandy Hook, Aurora and many others. But being in this progressive community, in this progressive space, as the details unfolded, it definitely struck a deeper chord. I could easily have been in that club that night.”

GUTTIEREZ: “I felt sadness and pain for all the incidents, but my reaction was more intense considering the Latino LGBT community was targeted. My feelings of frustration were magnified. We need to change the laws around guns and rifles.”

On contributing factors:

GARCIA: “If you’re looking for any sort of common denominator in the factors, in terms of whether it was a hate crime or a terrorist attack or he was mentally ill, the underlying premise to all that is hate, whether it was systemic or cultural or societal, he clung to something that led him to do this. Whether we’re talking about  gun reform or heightened security, we have to continue to not try to turn this horrific, horrific event into a means of spreading more hate in the world.”

BALTUANO: “This was definitely not just some random, isolated event. Yes, the shooter was killed and the media has tried to make it out to be some isolated act of terrorism, but it’s an act of hate. Of transphobia, of homophobia, of xenophobia. It may not happen to us 50 people at once, but it happens all the time. We’re losing black trans women every day and it’s troublesome and scary to think about this happening at this magnitude again but I feel all this xenophobia is especially stirred up right now because of the presidential election. What Donald Trump is saying is hate speech, the way he speaks about black, Latinx and Muslim people. We’re not being seen as people.”

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

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