One year ago, at a gay nightclub called Pulse, 49 people were killed and 53 were injured in the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history. Pulse was hosting a Latin night when Omar Mateen committed the massacre, leaving survivors, victims' friends and family, and members of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly Latinx LGBTQ+ individuals, wondering how to cope with what had happened and where to go next.
I remember waking up and going on Twitter, seeing what had happened and feeling the deep, deep pain that reverberated throughout the community. Nobody I knew was there, but I immediately texted my LGBTQ+ friends to check in on them. I remember sitting there blankly, wondering, "What now?"
I remember how quickly attention was drawn away from the pain of the community and what had just happened, a hate crime of the most abhorrent degree, and immediately to the phone call that Mateen had made pledging allegiance to ISIS and the subsequent blatant Islamophobia that permeated the media for days afterwards.
The deaths of 49 queer people was now a vessel for anti-Islam sentiments, and were no longer lives to be genuinely mourned, lost to hatred and bigotry.
I myself had only just come out as pansexual a few months prior, and had struggled to feel like I belonged to the community--until June 12th, 2016. The fear, the mourning, the hard edges of pain that cut through the community unfortunately cut into a place where I found myself. To this day, I wish it hadn't been this moment.
The thought of "This could happen anywhere, this could happen to me," ran through many heads that day. A year later, it still runs through mine.
In a series of voicemails left on a CNN mailbox about their experiences, some LGBTQ+ people discussed how they've returned back into the closet after the shooting. A 50-year old transgender woman named Fifi from Louisiana explains, "We have fought so far--so hard. And, honestly, I thought we were making huge progress. And now, because of one incident, everybody is looking over their shoulder again."
Fifi, who once wore five-inch or higher heels, makeup and earrings, has returned to presenting consistently as James, her birth name, instead of as herself, explaining that it is easier and safer to do so. She mentioned that in public, on the day of the shooting, she saw people watching the televised coverage and laughing at the scenes of LGBTQ+ people running from the nightclub.
Others have come out since the shooting, and have subsequently began helping with LGBTQ+ clubs and other groups to support the community. Others still have said that they avoid gay bars now.
Meanwhile, protections for the LGBTQ+ community are under fire again, and many members of the community expressed their disappointment in the lack of political efforts to protect LGBTQ+ rights.
The deputy director of the LGBT rights and special litigation project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization, said in an interview, "I had thought that a mass attack on the LGBT population might have given people an impetus to develop empathy, and that it might spark a conversation about all of the ways in which LGBT people are still excluded."
Instead, there are efforts to withdraw rights. Alabama signed a law allowing state-funded adoption agencies to refuse LGBQ+ couples in May, while Texas attempts to restrict transgender people from using the bathroom that matches their gender identities.
28 states still allow private employers to terminate employment of LGBTQ+ people, and of course, there's talk of the rolling back of the marriage equality that was granted in 2015.
There is something to be said about how unsafe the community feels now, the politicization of the massacre and the pushes to remove LGBTQ+ rights. People no longer feel that they can safely be who they are, and feel that they must put up fronts to protect themselves. People now look over their shoulders in places where they once felt accepted.
What I beg of you, as a reader, on this day, is to take a moment to remember the lives extinguished that night. I beg of you to support LGBTQ+ people and communities around you, to check-in on them today and to support them every single day. I beg of you to use your privileges, should you have any, to uplift and protect the marginalized around you.
I beg of you to let them speak, if they feel comfortable, but not to pressure them, and instead, offer a listening ear and a hand to support them.
Clearly, the government does not care. Clearly very few media outlets care. Clearly even many Americans do not care, but we only have one another. We must take care of each other. The scars of this tragedy might not ever fully heal, but together, they can become less mangled, less painful. Nobody should ever have to experience hatred for being who they are.
Please remember these people today:
Stanley Almodovar III, Amanda L. Alvear, Oscar A. Aracena Montero, Rodolfo Ayala Ayala, Antonio Davon Brown, Darryl Roman Burt II, Angel Candelario-Padro, Juan Chavez Martinez, Luis Daniel Conde, Cory James Connell, Tevin Eugene Crosby, Deonka Deidra Drayton, Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, Leroy Valentin Fernandez, Mercedez Marisol Flores, Peter Ommy Gonzalez Cruz, Juan Ramon Guerrero, Paul Terrell Henry, Frank Hernandez, Miguel Angel Honorato, Javier Jorge Reyes, Jason Benjamin Josaphat, Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, Christopher Andrew Leinonen, Alejandro Barrios Martinez, Brenda Marquez McCool, Gilberto R. Silva Menendez, Kimberly Jean Morris, Akyra Monet Murray, Luis Omar Ocasio Capo, Geraldo A. Ortiz Jimenez, Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, Joel Rayon Paniagua, Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, Enrique L. Rios, Jr., Jean Carlos Nieves Rodriguez, Xavier Emmanuel Serrano-Rosado, Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, Edward Sotomayor Jr., Shane Evan Tomlinson, Martin Benitez Torres, Jonathan A. Camuy Vega, Juan Pablo Rivera Velazquez, Luis Sergio Vielma, Franky Jimmy DeJesus Velazquez, Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, and Jerald Arthur Wright.