"Gay clubs are the only places to go to meet people who talk like us, look like us, dance like us,” Maria Hernandez Rodriguez told teleSUR.">
As funerals begin in the Orlando area for those murdered in the hate-crime shooting at Pulse nightclub Sunday, right-wing bigots continue their assault on the Latino LGBTQ community, calling for protests at the services.
Of the 49 killed and at least 53 wounded, over 90 percent were of Latin American descent. More than half of those killed were from Puerto Rico.
teleSUR spoke to several Latino LGBTQ’s in Orlando and throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico about this latest attack on what is already a marginalized group.
Letty Concepcion, a transplanted Puerto Rican from New York living in Orlando, knew four of the victims and is one of the people in charge of security for the funerals.
She was only spared the horrific attack because she and her close friends decided to skip the club Saturday night.
Two beloved friends, Juan P. Rivera Velazquez and Luis Daniel Conde, partners for 16 years, however, were among those senselessly killed.
“They owned Alta Peluqueria K’Magazine Salon in Kissimmee, here in Central Florida. They were well-known and well-loved by the community,” she told teleSUR. Their funerals will be Monday.
Concepcion explained that in East Orlando and Kissimmee there are a lot of recent arrivals from Puerto Rico due to the economic situation on the island.
She also recounted how when she heard about the attack she “immediately wanted to go help, but the police had locked the area down. After texting, calling and checking on social media for my friends, I decided to help organize the blood donations and help families find their loved ones. I helped one family find their son, who was alive but in a critical condition.”
Concepcion also knew Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon and his partner, Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, whose funerals took place today. Wilson-Leon’s remains will be flown back to Puerto Rico, while Mendez Perez’s remains will be buried in Orlando.
Julio Salgado is a queer and undocumented artist living in the East Bay, California. He wrote, “Like many of my fellow queer and trans people of color, all I kept thinking was: That could have been me.
“I also kept thinking about an art show I was part of at SoleSpace, called ‘Xotalicious.’ It was a night to celebrate fellow queer people of color with art and music, and to remind each other that we exist—despite others not wanting us to.”
Myriam Laureano went to the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City on Sunday, which for the first time in its 59-year history, honored LGBTQs.
“We honored the gay community after many years of struggle to be recognized. The pride turned into rage and then into a lot of love and passion for the ongoing struggle, for those of us who are not cowards. I detest those who try to impose their will through violence and oppression.”
Enrique Ramirez, a Mexican living in the New York-New Jersey area commented, “ My mom now has dementia so she doesn't know exactly what's going on, but prior to that she loved going to the gay parade with me, so when I read the texts from the sons to their moms it really broke my heart.”
Tatiana Quiroga told teleSUR that she felt the attack on her entire world—professional, personal and political.
“My wife and I met here in Orlando, we got married here, and decided to raise our two boys here. We thought this was a safe place for us,” she said.
Quiroga works with LGBTQ families at Family Equality Council—parents and children alike, mostly Latino.
“Central Florida has a large Latino population, we are now providing services to LGBTQs on how to talk to our children about the attack, how to allow our children to grieve while we ourselves grieve,” she added.
She also commented that Pulse was a small nightclub frequented by Blacks and Latinos.
“The shooter knew exactly what he was doing. He was targeting Latinos. He had scoped the place out, it was Latin Night,” Quiroga continued. “It was Gay Day the weekend before, there were events at much bigger clubs, if he had wanted a larger target.”
Quiroga, who is from Bolivia, explained, “Pulse was our little safe space where we could be our authentic selves. There are such few spaces for us.”
From Puerto Rico, Lazaro Rodriguez Parera, told teleSUR, “Here in Puerto Rico the LGBTQ community has been devastated by this despicable massacre. Many of our compatriots from all parts of the island living in Orlando were killed just for being Latino and gay.
“We have had vigils, religious services, and other things here on the island. The love and solidarity that has been demonstrated by the community in general has been very moving.”
Alan Jude Ryland, a young gay Dominican living in New York and his mother, Virginia Herrera, also gay, were both horrified by the attack.
“As an editor, I was asked to compile hateful tweets on the Orlando shooting for an article. I sat in my chair for three seemingly endless hours and sifted through thousands upon thousands of voices who, in real time, congratulated the shooter and celebrated the senseless slaughter of my brothers and sisters. I sobbed my way through the entire assignment.
“You did not need to know Pulse or go to Pulse to feel its devastating ripple effect across the community.”
Herrera stated, “When I heard the news, I thought how terrible it was that we are not safe anywhere. The world is so big, there should be room for all of us.
“Despite the horror that breaks my heart, there are so many that want to help. You could see it when people went to help others during the attack without thought to their own safety.”
Maria Hernandez Rodriguez had the idea to go dancing Saturday night at Pulse with some straight friends and family. In the end they didn’t end up going.
“When I found out about it and starting texting and calling people, I found out my good friend Franky Jimmy de Jesus Velazquez had not made it,” she told teleSUR.
She continued, “When Jimmy came from Puerto Rico he stayed with me. He was compassionate, generous, gay and strong. He had no enemies. He was into meditation and accepting people without judgement.
“He is going to have a closed casket wake and funeral. That’s how badly he was shot.”
Rodriguez, who is Puerto Rican, said her mission now is to make sure a lot of the money that is being donated to the Orlando community be used to make safe spaces for LGBTQ Latinos.
Orlando is known as little Puerto Rico, said Rodriguez and still “there is nothing for LGBTQ Latinos here. The gay center has no Spanish speakers. Gay clubs are the only place to go to meet people who talk like us, look like us, dance like us,” she said.
She wants to make sure, “resources go into providing social services, social networks and even just a ‘bienvenido’ to LGBTQ Latinos.”
Raul Al-qaraz Ochoa, a Mexican LGBTQ activist in the California Bay Area told teleSUR, “The massacre in Orlando is the latest manifestation of violence and homophobia directed at LGBTQ people of color in the U.S.
“Many LGBTQ asylum seekers come fleeing from this type of violence. But there is a misconception that the U.S. is beyond homophobia. It is not.”
Cristina Pichardo-Cruz recounted to teleSUR, "When I first heard of the shooting, I thought that could have been me. It could have happened to any of us. The last time I went to Pulse I went with a group of people and we sat at a table on the patio. I had my back turned towards the door so if he had come that night I would have been the first person he would have seen and shot most likely."
The Puerto Rican mother, raising her two young girls with her wife, told teleSUR, “I'm very amazed how much Orlando has united, from my co-workers to the Latino community and the city as a whole."
In New York, Teresa Gutierrez told teleSUR, “For the past few days, I do not know a single LGBTQ person who has not been torn apart, crying, distracted, withdrawn, sad.
“Our sisters and brothers and family of Pulse were killed senselessly and violently and horrifically.
“But I do not blame the shooter, I blame the system. A system that allows a Trump to blast his hateful anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.
“As a Mexican Lesbian, I vow to continue the fight. My tears will be part of the flood that washes away our oppression.”