As Puerto Rico Mourns Lives Lost In Orlando, Let Us Loudly Demand Equality and Acceptance

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June 21, 2016
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Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Staff Attorney

June 12th. The date of the tragic slaughter of 49 people at the hands of a man armed with assault weapons has opened wounds, broken hearts, awoken a nation, and opened our eyes.

It is also a date we will remember as one of the darkest days in Orlando, in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, in the United States, but particularly, in Puerto Rico.

Nearly half of the 49 victims of the mass shooting at Pulse, a gay night club, were from Puerto Rico or part of the Puerto Rican diaspora. As a gay Puerto Rican and part of that diaspora, I cannot help but tear up at the thought of how this tragedy has impacted my people, the LGBT people from Puerto Rico, whether they live on the island, Orlando, New York City, or one of our many enclaves across the United States.

As LGBT Puerto Ricans, when we read their names, saw their faces, and learned their stories, one simple thought crossed each of our minds: That’s me. As Puerto Rico and its diaspora come together in grief, Lambda Legal and I also mourn with LGBT people in Puerto Rico. 

When I think about the innocent lives lost to the slaughter in Orlando and the countless other lives impacted by it, I feel physical heartache and momentarily wonder, “When will we succeed?”

Discrimination and violence are all too familiar to LGBT people in Puerto Rico and across America. Even when we achieve monumental victories, like marriage equality, we are faced with the vitriol and intentional discrimination by elected officials and those that distort religion to suit their private biases.

By way of example, in Puerto Rico, candidates for elected office are making pledges to target the LGBT community for discrimination to gain favor with some voters; the police harass gay men by targeting them through sting operations, filing false charges that are ultimately dismissed; and the murders and assault of transgender and transsexual women are routinely ignored by authorities or remain unresolved. 

"As LGBT Puerto Ricans, when we read their names, saw their faces, and learned their stories, one simple thought crossed each of our minds: That’s me."

Yet, when I read the names of the victims, when I see their faces and learn their stories, I realize that our future is bright, that tomorrow is full of promise, and that we will ultimately prevail in achieving equality and acceptance for LGBT people.

The stories of the lives they lived remind us of what is possible. Their stories remind us that we can be joyful, that we can dance, and that we can come together in camaraderie as we celebrate who we are. 

Our community has come together to grieve and remember the innocent. But as we mourn them, let us renew our commitment, redouble our efforts, and fight with all our might to achieve the full promise of equality for LGBT people in Puerto Rico, Orlando, and the United States.

The victims we mourn deserve nothing less. Let us take this tragedy as a call to action. We must fight for our lives and our civil rights, and loudly demand equality, acceptance, dignity, and respect. And as we do so, know that I and Lambda Legal will work together, as we have been doing, with the LGBT community in Puerto Rico. 

Edward Sotomayor Jr. (34), Stanley Almodóvar III (23), Luis Omar Ocasio Capó (20), Eric Iván Ortiz Rivera (36), Peter O. González-Cruz (22), Anthony Luis Laureano Disla (25), Jean Carlos Méndez Pérez (35), Franky Jimmy de Jesús Velázquez (50), Amanda Alvear (25), Martín Benítez Torres (33), Luis Daniel Wilson-León (37), Mercedez Marisol Flores (26), Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado (35), Gilberto Ramón Silva Menéndez (25), Javier Jorge-Reyes (40), Juan P. Rivera Velázquez (37), Luis Daniel Conde (39), Leroy Valentín Fernández (25), Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega (24), Jean C. Nieves Rodríguez (27), Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala (33), Yilmary Rodríguez Sulivan (24), and Angel L. Candelario-Padró (28) deserve nothing less.