On the need for brown solidarity in the memory of Pulse
By Sebastian Pérez
On the night of June 12, 2016, 49 LGBTQ people were killed and 58 were wounded in the worst massacre in the recent history of the United States: the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida. Let the fact that queer people of color are marked by this terrible distinction sink in for a moment. “Pulse” resuscitated a number of political debates, ranging from gun control, stronger restrictions on immigration, to foreign influence on domestic terror.
Yet our country, especially the gay Latino men who saw themselves, their friends, their lovers, and their chosen families reflected in the faces of the victimized, was unprepared for the crisis of LGBTQ acceptance and the undeniable, creeping dread that forced us to feel the full weight of the word “minority” once again. LGBTQ men, women, and allies gathered across the country in public displays of mourning to bring attention to the federal and state policies that made Pulse possible: the loose gun control laws in individual states and the lack of a federal policy on background checks; the restrictive immigration policies that turn brown people into scapegoats for the economic and social woes facing the United States; and the racist rhetoric and executive actions from the White House that vindicate violence against brown people are among the many political conditions that allowed this to happen. Mainstream English and Spanish news outlets reported on these issues that spun from the difficult interviews with the bereaved. Yet the twelve months following the shooting have not resulted in any effective federal legislation that would prevent future tragedies from occurring. Race was present everywhere, yet scant attention was given to the subjectivity of the queer people of color and the experience of race. Omar Mateen, the Pulse nightclub murderer, chose Latin night in what had been one of Orlando, Florida’s most beloved gay establishments. Mateen chose to commit an act of simultaneous homophobic and racial violence, but the LGBTQ Latina/o/x can continue to be whole and proactive on its own terms.
Most of the energies of the White House have been spent in peeling back some of the major legislation introduced in the Obama administration with devastating consequence, i.e. the Affordable Care Act (imperfect), along with threats of terminating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) among other programs, and, of course, failing to hide the total incompetence of the current administration. LGBTQ Latina/o/x communities cannot be defined by the specific gains of the mainstream, and often white-male serving, LGBTQ movement. By necessity, racial justice, immigration, access to healthcare, education, the strength of the economy, and social mobility all shape our experiences as oppressed people. Out of necessity, acts of private mourning are being brought out into the public at the grassroots level one year after the shooting to honor their memory.
I had the privilege of meeting one of the survivors of the Pulse Massacre. In the short time that I spent with him, he was open, kind, humble, honest, and true to his character. He showed me a person who took accepted the responsibility of continuing to make meaning of his life, who held the darkness of his experience with self-acceptance and transformed his story into a teaching moment of how we might also become better people. His life demonstrates that it will continue if you let it. He lives for the necessity of compassion under all circumstances.
How do we continue to honor the 49 in ways that translate into political and cultural change? One way is to support fellow immigrant communities.
Omar Mateen is connected to the decades of racist policies that have vilified Middle Eastern and Muslim communities at home and abroad. Pop psychological profiles meant to vindicate the anger of queer people, especially gay men, demonized him for his secret sexual liaisons with men as much the shooting itself. He is responsible, no question. But it would be too easy for us to allow policy makers and the public to draw negative assumptions about Middle Eastern and Muslim migrant communities based on this event, and to self-harming for us to affirm. We share the racial identity of being brown. Our families have mixed legal status, are also in the United States often fleeing violence in their home countries. Our communities are equally scapegoated for the so-called social decay, unspecified violence, lowered expectations and diminished life chances that often characterize being a person of color today. Supporting leadership and policies that target Middle Eastern and Muslim communities would have the same social and political impact on us.
Of all the things you celebrate this summer,I hope you include yourself among them. I hope you remember that you and people that look like you are noteworthy in times of crisis, achievement, and ordinariness. I hope you remember to look past one man’s evil and oppose anti-Muslim violence in the U.S. and abroad. And I hope you never allow anyone to overshadow any part of your identity.