We Are Orlando

Diverse voices from our community share how the mass shooting has affected them.

Diego Campoverde (Alianza Latina)                                                                                                                                         

I think everyone in the community, not just the LGBTQ community, is heartbroken by these tragic events. But as a gay Latino, after watching the news that morning, I just couldn’t believe what was going on. I think America is getting so used to this gun violence. Every month, every week, there’s something going on. That’s so unfair that so many innocent people have to die because of this. We have a huge issue, a huge problem here in America with gun control. It’s time to do something about it. We are so tired of this constant rhetoric saying that they’re going to do something, but nothing has been done. It plays a huge role in all these violent incidents that have happened.

When it comes to the shooting in Orlando, as I said before, as a Latino I came to this country to find my “freedom.” I came from Ecuador, from a conservative city, country, family—I came here to try to escape and to be free, to be the person I always wanted to be. So I came out of the closet here, I have made a lot of great friends, and we started Alianza Latina. I came out to my family in Ecuador, and now they support me a lot; they understand better what LGBT is all about.

That’s incredible progress for me personally, but by watching this incident, I felt like everything I have done is not valid anymore. It’s like we’re going backward with all the progress that we have been trying to do for the LGBT, Latino, and immigrant communities. It’s heartbreaking to see that all these Latinos have died because of this incident, because of the issue we still have in this country with homophobia. I feel, with all these mixed feelings, also the media is not portraying that this attack was to the Latino community and immigrants directly, to the LGBTQ Latino community. The spectrum is so broad, and I’m tired of just not having notice at all.

I think it’s not fair—to the Latino community, some undocumented people that died in the attack as well, that came to this country to help their parents have a better life back in Mexico—or any of the Latin American countries they came from—they came here to find the freedom that I was looking for as well. They were just having fun, being happy being who they were, dancing, and they got killed. That’s very scary.

My partner is from Wisconsin. I went to the movies with him, and it was scary—he was like, “Relax, Diego, this is exactly what this terrorist and the idea of terrorism in this country wants; they want you to be scared and hide in your home and don’t leave.” I was saying, no I feel it shouldn’t be like that, it cost me so much to be who I am, to be free. To feel like this in a movie theater is not fair. It’s not possible that we’re going through this again after we have accomplished so much as a LGBT community, that we’re going backwards.

I think it’s very important to let the LGBTQ and the Latino community know that here in Madison we are not alone. We have a lot of resources and organizations that we can count on, and that’s why we had the vigil—to let the community know that we are here. If there are any questions or fear about this or what to do, we have bilingual counselors who are going to be able to help. Just to show the community that even though this horrible tragedy happened, we’re going to honor the victims but we’re also going to stand up for our rights and talk about our community and that we have resources available; that the families need to come and support their children.

A lot of people are going to be going backwards, and for those that were very close to being happy or free, now they’re going to doubt and say, “OK, what is the point of me coming out if I’m going to get killed in a bar?” It may sound extreme, but I feel that way. All those young folks who are going through a hard transition feel that way. I think the message is not just in Madison or the U.S. I think it’s for the entire world that we are tired of this. We really need to somehow create new regulations or laws that support our community at all levels. Because we’re people like anyone.

Alex Hanna                                                                                                                                         

I’m writing this as part of what I consider will be a long grieving and healing process. Yesterday, I was consumed with grief, anger, sadness, and fear. Today, I think I have enough energy to put some of the whirlwind of thoughts going on in my head into words. Apologies if these thoughts are somewhat disjointed.

What I keep coming back to about this whole ordeal is horror and fear. That the violence I have felt that is potentially around every corner is now in plain sight, for everyone to see. For the past few weeks, as I’ve drifted off to sleep, I would have visions of someone breaking into my house and hurting or killing me because I’m a trans woman of color. I didn’t need a mass murder for this to spring into my consciousness. Black and Brown trans women represent the highest percentage of LGBTQ murders in the U.S. I know that my class position guards me in a way that doesn’t guard many of my sisters, but I also can’t help but think that my death is as close as walking past the wrong bar, where some (trans)misogynist / racist trash thinks he’s entitled to my attention and my body.

When we talk about Orlando, we need to talk about the fact that it was Latin night at the bar, and that most of victims are Latinx and Black people. The evening’s headliners were Latina trans women. We also need to talk about how systemic violence affects people of color disproportionately.

We know violence against Black and Brown people much too intimately in Madison and Wisconsin. There are vast disparities in incarceration, education, and housing—just to mention a few. And Black and Brown people know the racism that nurtures that violence, both overt and shrouded in language and microaggressions. I went to a vigil for the victims at the Capitol. Most of the attendees were white. Perhaps one or two people in attendance spoke out about the racialized nature of the attack on Pulse. One attendee, in an effort to talk about gun culture, made a comment about not feeling safe in “particular parts of Madison.” One of the other speakers (possibly even the same speaker??) commented on how diverse the crowd was that showed up. Senator Tammy Baldwin was there, and multiple speakers emphasized the importance of voting. I went to the vigil to find healing, but in the end just found more anger.

I’m feeling the fear of violence too intimately. Trump and his ilk are taking the opportunity to stoke America’s perennial anti-Arab and anti-Muslim flames. I know maybe two other queer Arabs in Madison, and no other Arab trans women. Transmisogynists and homophobes would kill me because I didn’t bend to their perverted whims or deign obediently to their attention. Anti-Arab and anti-Islamists would kill me because I represent a threat to Christian values and white
supremacy.

I recently received my PhD. At my graduation, I mentioned how privileged I was to be there, to be given the opportunities and support from family, friends, and colleagues to reach that goal. The night before the shooting, I celebrated with my roller derby family at the Wrecking Ball, our derby prom. I stayed out past 2 a.m. at the after-party. I rarely stay out that late. But it could have been “the night” where it happened. Ph.D. one week, another statistic that is misgendered in the media the next.

I don’t have any solutions. I have some vague ideas about the need to build social movement organizations and to create vibrant, diverse, and resilient networks of activists. But all I can ask of everyone hurting right now is to check in with your friends and families and communities. Feel free to check in with me. I don’t think we’re gonna get through this with someone who possesses a limitless supply of sympathy. Brené Brown talks about empathy and shame resilience, and the different between empathy and sympathy. Empathy is different from sympathy because you are working through things together. Allies, I urge you to practice that empathy as well, which means listening, relating where you can, but also letting those folks who are hurting to steer the ship.

I’m going to Toronto to look for an apartment. I’m not looking forward to navigating international borders as an Arab trans woman right now. And in the long term, I don’t know if Canada is going to be any better. But I am going to just take it a day at a time, practicing empathy where I can.

William Frahm-Gilles                                                                                                                                    

I made it in to work yesterday. I had been planning on working from home, to try to do some good in the world as a way to cope with feelings that don’t have an articulation. I didn’t want to hear the fallout from the Orlando shooting, but there was an important meeting that you don’t just reschedule,
so I made it in. I wasn’t expecting to be hit as hard as I was, stepping into a building that for many reasons I avoid, due to the isolation and microaggressions, on a good day.

After the third chipper “How was your weekend?” I knew it wasn’t going to be a great morning. You see, terrorism and mass shootings have become an easy “Isn’t that too bad, isn’t the world becoming scary?” talking point over beers or coffee or at the water cooler.

This isn’t about that, though.

This is about the daily violence and threats to personhood that LGBTQ+ people face on a constant basis, laid bare and made obvious to even those who would never give us another thought.

This is about the time I was pushed into the wall outside the Shamrock, called a faggot, and had someone threaten to call the cops on me for being gay and holding hands with someone (or rather, to be fair, threatening to call the cops on my date, who looked quite a bit older than me, who was going to “go take this little boy home and rape him”).

It was about the moment I was walking hand-in-hand with my husband and a car full of teenagers, pubescent acne still proud on their faces, slowed their car next to us to ask if they could get a blowjob when we were done.

It was about the time, arm slung over my best friend’s shoulder, a frat boy in a backwards cap and an undershirt pumped his drunken fist in the air and shouted, “I approve of your alternative lifestyle!” drawing far more attention than we ever anticipated in a dark gas station parking lot.

It was about the time during veterinary school when I realized I had been casually outed by my classmates to an entire hospital of staff and clinicians, without having any say in who was safe enough to know I was trans, and spent an hour crying for the second time in a decade and writing an email, calling out their behavior and then telling people that if they really wanted to support me they would show it through action and not tell me they were sorry or try to hug me or anything.

And it was about those who insisted on invading my personal space and threatening my safety the next day by hugging me.

It is about how, in my clinical year of veterinary school, I was treating a dog who belonged to a trans teenager and had to endure the comments and questions about “Well, what is that person?” and the kid’s mom insisting that it was her “daughter who wants to be a boy” and a near panic attack because dear GOD this kid is going to lose his dog and he needs that bond more than anyone in the fucking world and all people can think about is whether they should call him “he” or “she.”

This is about the fact that this narrative, this series of “near misses,” is counted as fucking LUCKY in our community. That is sick.

It is about my friend in high school who was beat up walking down State Street and landed in the ER, with us all learning at 15, 16, 17 years old that the world is a violent and terrifying place—even more so if you are queer, even more so if you are gender non-conforming, even more so if you are a person of color, and especially so if you are a trans woman of color.

It is about the fact that it is still necessary to come to grips with the fact that you might lose it all—even your life—if you come out, and getting to a place so dark where that is worth it to be yourself.

It is about the isolation I have felt within the community the past few days, not knowing who would be able to see that and who would be so preoccupied with equality and proving we are “the same as everyone else” that they would buy into the rhetoric of an Islamic terrorist gunning down ‘Mercans because they want to believe we are in a post-homophobic society and that we are all equal and we are all worthy.

It is about the shame I have felt as a white, gay, trans man with passing privilege, being categorically unable to adequately reach out to my QPOC brothers and sisters because I was trying to deal with my own shit about this shooting, and the internal conflict and inadequate action that comes with threatened people being forced into the role of caring for even more threatened people, when all we want to do is hold each other and collapse in a heap of tears because yes, this is traumatizing, and yes, this is public, but dammit—we are used to coping with grief and murder, and we know the drill, but this one is just too big and too exposed and too much to do privately.

It is about our Muslim family who grapples with twice as much angst and fear as the rest of us in the aftermath of such an event, on top of how they have been thrown under the bus so many times as an easy scapegoat to refuse to acknowledge that America is just fine at growing hateful people with easy access to weapons and a will to use them on its own, thank you very much.

It is about the tweets that followed from all corners of the U.S. stating that, “The only good thing about THIS shooting was that it was a gay bar,” and worse, more vile comments that were still not the first of their kind any of us have seen or heard.

Mostly, heartbreakingly, it is about the fact that none of this was a surprise. Talking with a colleague yesterday I made the comment that, in some sick sense, at least we know where the first situation like this is going to happen. The surprise in her eyes at my expectation that this was not an isolated incident said everything about how the constant hate and threat of violence is unnoticed by so many, even so many allies.

So don’t you DARE tell us we are worthy of your thoughts and prayers now when this shit still happens every damned day. Don’t you dare tell us this is an attack on America when America is set up to perpetuate this bullshit. Don’t you dare.

John Smallwood                                                                                                                                           

“Unidentified victim.”

The massacre at the Orlando gay club Pulse is personal to me. I have only been able to process pieces of this. The whole would shut me down. Here is one of the many pieces:

On Monday morning, the day after the deadly mass shooting left 49 dead and more than 50 wounded, all of the victims had been identified except for one. My mind quickly took me to a place two decades and a lot of self-work away. I became the unidentified victim.

Closeted. Hours from where I live. In the only place where I can be gay, be sexually attracted to men, and not judged, or worse. It is the middle of the night. The rest of my world can’t see me.

Gay bars rarely have windows for a reason. They are a sanctuary. I was in my sanctuary. A respite from the lies that keep my current world from disappearing in an instant if I told the truth: I am a gay man. No one in the bar will know my last name. No one asks. They know my story by looking at me. It’s a familiar one.

My family will know something is very wrong when I don’t show up to take my mother to church. She doesn’t drive anymore because she is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. She gets great comfort in her lifelong Primitive Baptist Christian faith, which has served her well. She needs it now more than ever to get through this horrible time in her life of slowly losing her mind while her husband of 40 years dies of cancer. So her closeted gay son takes her to a small church in the country.

Most of the “Brothers” preach in a cadence that sounds more like singing than a speech. Most Sundays there is at least some mention of the sad state of this country when it considers men marrying men and women marrying women. Sometimes the whole sermon is about the homosexual’s reprobate mind being an abomination unto the Lord and how the Lord will stop blessing Americans. The chosen ones. The chosen religion. The chosen denomination. The chosen country. His favor will be pulled. We will not be the chosen ones anymore. Even though this faithful house of worship has it right, they are too few in number to save the country. America still must be punished, by…God. The God they worship…because gays might be able to marry.

The police will find my car parked blocks away. I would never park at the gay club. They run my plates. My name revealed. Dots connected.

So, my parents find out like that. Their world would not allow them to have a gay son. They will continue the denial they have lived all of their son’s life. The signs were there. They chose not to deal with it and taught their son to do the same. Carefully let him know he must do the same. That will not change by his murder in a gay bar by a religious zealot who thinks God hates gay people. They will say, “He heard the gunfire and ran into the place because he thought he could help.” Their dead—not gay—son is a hero.

Late Monday the name of the last unidentified victim was released. He was identified by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer as 25-year-old Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez.