Last semester, Natalie Ringsmuth, Executive Director of the local grassroots activist group, #UniteCloud, joined my class to talk about some of the work of #UniteCloud within their overarching goal of actively participating in the end of marginalization of all of our community members. After such meeting, I read a blog from their website and incorporated what we’ve learned through class discussions to analyze said post to better understand systems of oppression.
I read a post from #UniteCloud’s website titled “Orlando, You are Not Alone” about a community gathering that occurred following the massacre that took place at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida this past June. The purpose of the gathering was to honor the lives lost as a result of this hate crime that motivated mass murder, and to come together as a St. Cloud community to show that they care about our LGBTQ+ community members. In order to understand this community gathering, we must understand the murders themselves.
According to an article from NPR titled “3 Hours in Orlando: Piecing Together an Attack and its Aftermath,” on June 12, 2016, an armed gunman named Omar Mateen entered the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando and slaughtered 49 innocent people. But these people were not coincidental targets. Mateen planned to massacre the people at the Pulse Orlando Nightclub because it was a known queer bar, and the night Mateen planned his attack coincided with a Latin themed night, where the majority of the attendees and grand majority of the victims of this heinous hate crime were queer Latinx people. This type of mortal, violent outburst on Mateen’s behalf was a textbook definition of mass systematic violence. The victims and those traumatized by the attack were specifically targeted as queer and trans Latinxs and for no other reason other than their belonging to these marginalized groups.
However, I find it important to contextualize that although this hyper form of mass violence is not common on a daily basis, violence against queer and trans Latinxs individually and in smaller groups is an extremely common occurrence, most especially felt by Latinx trans women and trans feminine people. Violence against queer and trans Latinxs is nothing new, and is in fact extremely prevalent when you listen to the voices and stories of these people and their everyday experiences at the intersections of racism, heterosexism, and cissexism. Even if certain members of this community are not experiencing direct physical assault, just the looming vulnerability is enough to be demoralizing and induce suffering and unhappiness. Young says that, “The oppression of violence consists not only in direct victimization, but in the daily knowledge shared by all members of oppressed groups that they are liable to violation, solely on account of their group identity.” Queer and trans Latinxs are certainly hyperaware of their marginalization and vulnerability to violence. It is our social responsibility, especially as white folks, to not talk about this tragedy as if it were an isolated and erratic occurrence, but an act of systematic racist, heterosexist, and cissexist violence that has been occurring for hundreds of years, thanks to colonization.
Shortly following the aftermath of this tragedy, people from around the globe, but especially Americans, started using the hashtag, #WeAreAllOrlando as a way to show support and solidarity with those most impacted by the attack. While very well intentioned and seemingly harmless to some, after listening to queer and trans Latinx activists, it became quite clear that, in fact, we are not all Orlando. Community leaders like the wonderful Jennicet Gutierrez were outspoken about this and refused to let this massive hate crime be whitewashed.
Whitewashing happens when other factors, like race and ethnicity, are not taken into account, unreported, or completely omitted from conversations and public discourse surrounding the massacre. Everyone, but especially white queer and trans folks have the responsibility to not erase the fact that the people targeted in this attack were almost exclusively (if not exclusively) people of color, namely Latinx people. It is a dishonor to these people who survived and didn’t survive the attack to gloss over this crucial bit of intersectionality; if we really want to understand what provoked this violence and listen to queer and trans Latinxs to find ways to best prevent more violence from continuously occurring.
…Stay tuned for Part 2, coming on Thursday…
Ruth Sybil Virginia May is a junior undergraduate student at St. Cloud State University, studying Gender and Women’s Studies, Human Relations, and Film Studies. Ruth is a genderqueer trans woman from a poor, working class background with a passion for feminism, fashion, film, and rad tunes.