In the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, thousands of people have gathered around the country to pay their respect to fallen queer victims. While mainstream gay organizations like the Human Rights Center and GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) have voiced their solidarity with the queer community in the wake of the tragedy, the discussion of intersection of race and the absence of safe space for Black and Latinx people (who were the majority of the victims) has been absent from the mainstream narrative.
At a Pulse vigil in Rhode Island, on the steps of the State House, speaker Joe Wilson and Vanessa Flores-Maldonado brought up questions of race and privilege in the queer community, criminalization, and the investment in the struggles of queer youth of color.
“Many of the young people in the bar were being outed as a result of being shot at. Being outed as a result of their parents searching for them in both morgues and hospitals. And we have to stop allowing [that] the only way that people of color are being allowed to come out of the closet is after they’re being shot and maimed and abused. This movement is about jailing folks that don’t need to have these sentences for having a bag of weed.“Our issues go far beyond marriage… The gay rights movement needs an autopsy… How do we include black? How do we include Latin folks? How do we include the transgendered community? How do we speak intelligently about people using bathrooms?”
Wilson speaks to the rift that had previously developed within the queer community as a result of gay marriage. While marriage equality was won last year, Black and Latino queer youth are at a high-risk for homelessness, and they are also less likely to come out to their parents than white queers. Transgender Latinx women are often placed in male detention centers, as the protocol is not on self-assessed gender, by physical anatomy, while Black transgender women face high-poverty coupled with unemployment, and both are likely to acquire HIV in record numbers.
“It was towards the end of the speaking program that Vanessa Flores-Maldonado spoke. She politely interrupted the proceedings and asked permission to speak. Flores-Maldonado talked about her discomfort at the idea of a greater police presence at the Pride event this Saturday, police added due to heightened concerns after the Pulse shooting in Orlando.’How am I, a queer person of color, a queer woman of color, supposed to feel safe?’ Flores-Maldonado asked, ‘We need to remember that Stonewall happened because trans-women of color had enough of police riots.’ “
Maldonado’s speech alludes to the disconcerting fact that Black and Latinx queers are still routinely harassed by the police. In 2012, it was reported that among transgender Latinx women in Los Angeles County, two-thirds of the women reported that that they were verbally harassed by law enforcement, 21 percent had been physically assaulted by law enforcement, and 24 percent had been sexually assaulted by those on the force. In 2015, it was also reported that Black and Latinx transgender women who experienced domestic violence also experienced further violence at the hands of police. Black and Latinx queers are also likely to be profiled by police for drug dealing and sex work.
If we seek to honor the victims of the Pulse shootings, we must center the lives of Black and Latinx queers while they are living in terms of policy changes, economic equality, the allocation of resources for more safe spaces for queers of color, and continuous community organizing, not only when tragedy strikes.