“That could have been me.”
Those are the words that play repeatedly in my mind as I see the continued coverage of the tragedy at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. For young Black and Latino gay, bisexual, and same-gender loving men like me, the club is our place to gather as a community, and last Sunday its sanctity was violated with the same violence we experience by unapologetically living our lives outside its doors.
The club is our safe space. It is there that we can escape the very real danger that LGBT Black and Latino folks face for being who we are around our families and in our neighborhoods. The club gives us space away from the violence that persists in our heteronormative culture, and on Sunday morning that safety, as illusory as it might have been, vanished with the lives of 49 young queer Black and Latino people and the injuries of 53 others.
The fact that this tragedy was at a gay club, on a night that appreciated a predominantly Latino community matters. It matters because, in those moments, behind those walls, we are able to dance and love without being afraid of physical violence and verbal abuse. We are able to be who we are for those few hours, before returning to our daily lives that force us to edit ourselves for survival.
We must remember and uplift the stories of those affected because our stories are not often told: stories of brilliance, creativity, and perseverance in the face of daily adversity. Stories that ended much too soon, due to violence and hate fueled by the rhetoric many have endured because of who they are and whom they love.
Where I live, there are very few places where I can feel affirmed in the intersections of my queerness and Blackness — spaces that offer the opportunity to hold both identities, without choosing one over the other are few and far between. Coming out at 16, I had the privilege of finding an LGBT serving youth center, a place where I found a community and a support system that many young people desire but cannot find.
We are able to be who we are for those few hours, before returning to our daily lives that force us to edit ourselves for survival.
When I turned 18, I entered my first club, joined by other LGBT young people who stayed there from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., because they did not have an affirming home to go to for the night. When the club ended, they walked around until either school started or their service agency reopened in the morning.
Moving to New York, I find that despite the many events that happen for LGBT people of color, I can always count on the club as a consistent space to be myself. There I can dance and socialize without the fear of being harmed. For my gender-nonconforming peers, there they can be who they are without apology.
In this Pride month, as we mourn those we lost, we must remain mindful that the spectrum of violence that affects LGBT Black and Latino people remains. Some will try to understand the motives of the shooter, but we must not let the lives of those harmed be overshadowed. We must march louder, love harder, and rebuild those spaces that allow us to be ourselves, while continuing to make every space a safe one.