A Year of Erasure: the Aftermath of the Pulse Nightclub Shooting


pulse nightclub anniversaryOn Monday, June 12, Rochesterians gathered at the Bachelor Forum, a local gay bar, to mark the one year anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando that took the lives of 49 people and wounded dozens more.

The massacre was one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history. In the early hours of Sunday, June 12, 2016, a man who had pledged his allegiance to ISIS entered the club and began shooting.

According to reporting by The New York Times, more than 300 people were attending the club’s weekly “Upscale Latin Saturdays” party that night. Nearly a third of them were shot.

Many people were trapped in the club, effectively taken hostage, until a SWAT raid was mounted around 5 a.m. The raid culminated in a shootout that left the assailant and one police officer dead, with another officer wounded. Innocent bystanders may also have been struck by bullets in the crossfire.

In the shooting’s wake, LGBTQIA communities around the country both mourned and took steps to increase security. These feelings were intensified when authorities in Santa Monica announced they had arrested a man, heavily armed with assault rifles and explosives, who told police he was going to West Hollywood’s Gay Pride celebration. The arrest came just hours after the siege of the Pulse Nightclub ended.

The shooting was the subject of intense media coverage, but one aspect of the attack went mostly unnoticed. The Pulse Nightclub shooting happened during an event that specifically catered to Latinx people. Whether in the news or in conversations among mourners, many people felt that the identities of the victims were largely erased.

For many white LGBTQIA people, the Pulse shooting was an attack on the the LGBTQIA community, and discussions about race were secondary to that central issue.pulse memorial

Xorje Olivares wrote in a piece for Vice: “I recall one brunch that summer, when a white ‘friend’ I hadn’t spoken to in several weeks tried to assert ownership over the table’s grief. When I, the only Latino at the table, calmly challenged him, he essentially asked: what made it so different for you?”

As a gay Latino, Olivares said that the attack felt like an assault on his community and its safe spaces.

Looking back at the victims list and scanning through their pictures, how could I not take it personally? A vast majority of those killed had names that sounded like mine, faces that looked like mine, skin tones that matched mine, and likely struggles that resembled mine, as a South Texas native forced to hide his truth from those who thought homosexuality was a sin reserved for jotos y maricones.”

In the year since, racial relations in the LGBTQIA community have grown more heated. The fact is, LGBTQIA people of color face more violence, higher rates of AIDS, and an increased likelihood of poverty than white LGBTQIA people. And yet those speaking out against such inequities in the LGBTQIA community sometimes face staunch opposition.

“Since the action, I have received hate mail and death threats, primarily from gay-identifying men. I have been screamed at on the street,” Alexandria Williams, a co-founder of Toronto’s Black Lives Matter chapter, told Now: Toronto. After she interrupted the city’s Pride March, “People have told me I’m no longer part of the queer community because my Blackness has no place there.”

In Rochester, tensions within the LGBTQIA community have resulted in a separate pride march for people of color. Rochester Black Pride, according to a Facebook post, “was created in 2016 to offer safe spaces to empower individuals navigating the intersections of their Black and Queer/LGBTQ identities.”

Change will likely be slow, but for the time being there was a glimmer of hope at the Pulse memorial, where speaker Kathy Hart said, “We’re all humans. It doesn’t matter what color we are.”

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