It’s been over two week since the Orlando shooting and my spirit is still reeling. That night 49 people were killed and 50 had been injured. Hearing the news that day sent me into an emotional tail spin. What was even more disheartening, was to witness the rhetoric that followed. Many in both mainstream and social media failed to contextualize the shooting as an attack on queer people of color (which it absolutely was) and only spoke generally about hate crimes against the gay community.
That night at Pulse, those in attendance were QTPOC particularly queer and trans black and Latinx folks, most of whom were Puerto Rican. Current media outlets fail to mention the racial description of the victims entirely while others mention it very briefly. This failure to acknowledge their race allows for this tragedy to be co-opted by white queer folk and be whitewashed as an attack on the entire LGBT+ community. We’ve seen this happen before.
Consider the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Police raids on gay bar were frequent during this time period. It reach a boiling point when patrons at the Stonewall Inn, a bar in Greenwich Village, grew furious at the constant harassment by police and a riot broke out in response. This is considered to be the first pro-gay rights demonstrations and the beginning of the gay rights movement. At the forefront of this riot were Marsha R. Johnson, a black trans woman, and Sylvia Rivera, a Latina trans woman. But, over time the gay rights movement became centered on white cisgender men. People can name Harvey Milk and Matthew Shepard easily but Marsha and Sylvia's names have been forgotten and their legacy erased. In fact a movie called Stonewall was released last year that depicts exactly this. A white cis gay man being the lead in the riots started by trans woman of color. White people became the face of the LGBT+ movement almost exclusively and POC were treated as additive bonuses.
I see this happening with Pulse. Overlooking the racial aspect of this shooting echoes what happened with the Stonewall riots. White queer folk are attaching themselves to this shooting because it is convenient for them. This shooting occurred during Pride month, it was easy to establish this as an example of how gay people are still treated as second class citizen as long as we don’t focus on the black and brown bodies that were killed. Where were these white queer folks when black folks were protesting police brutality? Where were they when Latinx folk were fight for immigration reform? When queer people of color organize and create spaces for ourselves we are met with criticism of being divisive. Many white people are operating under the idea that we living in a post-racial society that is that we are beyond the racism and are all on the same level. White queer folk are no exception. They believe that all queer folk all face the same experiences. However data shows that 80 percent of anti-gay hate crime are against people of color. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence programs reported that 72 percent of hate crimes against LGBTQ people were against trans women, 90 percent of whom were transgender women of color. Organizations like HRC and queer celebrities like Lady Gaga, said nothing when queer people of color were fighting the injustices we face yet now that the Pulse shooting is being whitewashed, it's easy to latch on too.
The Pulse shooting is lamentable to anyone who hears about it, but those who lead conversations and organize in activist/political spaces should be queer people color. We cannot allow this tragedy to be seen as a race neutral homophobic attack. The racial identity of the victims must be acknowledged and respected just as their sexual and gender identities are.