Orlando Pulse: Three Years Later

The first time I ever walked into a gay club was in 2003 in Providence, Rhode Island. A club called the, The Mirror Bar. I walked in looking like a Honduran, J-LO, in my pink velour hat, slightly angled and my favorite Baby Phat jeans. The first time I walked into a QTPOC (Queer Trans People of Color) gay club would be a year later in 2004, called Krash. I remember walking in and literally not being able to comprehend all the Black and Brown queer folks. It was the first time I ever felt free, the first place I could openly show affection to my girlfriend as we often did not feel safe to openly show affection and I remember not wanting the night to end. Dancehall and Reggaeton played in the background the entire night.

Today marks the three year anniversary of the Orlando Pulse Tragedy. A night of terrorism that mostly targeted Queer and Trans Latinx members of the LGBTQIA+ community. My memory is clear of when I first heard of this shooting. I remember hearing about the tragedy and looking up news articles within hours of the event. What was shocking is to not see a single photo, but rather a list of names of the victims. Name after name, after name was a name of Latinx heritage. I remember for the first day many newspaper articles failed to report that many of the victims and survivors were of Latinx origins. The erasure was not new, many times Queer Latinx history is erased and many of our elders voices have been lost.

As someone who worked at a college university and helped to create and attend vigils for Pulse, reflection circles and moments for students, I remember holding back my tears, and trying hard to not picture myself or my own death. I would picture a club, full of music, drag queens and people feeling free, to be met with violence. It would take a long time to not cry when I thought of Pulse. I remember talking to Sandra Rodriguez, a colleague and we cried together in the middle of a NASPA event as we talked about the pain we felt, but also feeling grateful to be connected to someone else who was Queer and Latinx and expereinecing grief.

Orlando Pulse reminds me that as a Queer and Latinx individuals that no matter how many times people try to erase my voice, I will always lead with authenticity, resiliency, empowerment, and strength. I know that the lives taken is tragic and it is my duty to honor our siblings who were lost in multiple ways. I would like to share how this tragedy inspired me to fully love myself and enact change in my life.

  1. I celebrate life. 49 people were killed three years ago, and it taught me not to take life for granted, as well as to make sure I was giving back to my QTPOC and QTLatinx communities. There was a time (long ago) where I did not want to live because I was QTPOC and Latinx and I would pray to wake up straight. Now, I choose to celebrate the intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1989) of those identities and know that being alive in itself is a revolution. It is a miracle.
  2. I work in my field of student affairs to hightlight QTPOC and QTLatinx voices. Whether it is challenging groups to create a name change that includes the term, “Latinx” or ensuring there is space and room to be QTLatinx. We have been in student affairs and will continue to be here. Whether I see you in NASPA’s Gender and Sexuality Knowledge Community, the Latinx/a/o Knowedge Community or NASPA Region I’s Ubuntu Institute where I created space for QTPOC, we will find space together. I remember at a NASPA social, several QTLatinx men approached me, cried and told me that simply hearing people at NASPA acknowledge being Queer and Latinx in a mostly Latinx/a/o setting was life changing, but more importantly, it was the representation they didn’t know they needed.
  3. Scholarships were created for the TQPOC through the Gender and Sexuality Knowledge Community under my recommendation and something I will continue to sponsor with the help of many generous donors.
  4. I went to therapy. I recognize as a social justice educator, I was carrying the scars of my students and I am proud to state not only did therapy help, but the energy of healing allowed me to pursue a doctoral degree where I am hoping to study the secondary trauma of student affair practitioners of color. In other words, we can carry the racial trauma of our students if we are the first responders. Looking back, I was carrying a lot of my students trauma during the Orlando Pulse vigils. I hope to educate care-takers, educators, first responders to know when you are feeling fatigued by these types of event, how to check yourself for burnout.
  5. I look to support Queer and Trans Latinx foundations and non-profits. Whether it is Boston’s Network La Red, survivor-led organizing to end partner abuse which is also bilingual https://tnlr.org or Casa Ruby the only bilingual LGBTQ group in Washington DC to help with homelessness and other services to end discrimnation to LGBTQ folks. Led by a Trans woman of color who is Latinx, Ruby Corado. https://casaruby.org

I think often about Sylvia Rivera the Latinx Trans person who with pure rage demanded the right to live at Stonewall. People often found her and other trans women of color or drag queens too radical for the Lesbian and gay civil rights movement thus her voice would be silenced and erased, but when you watch footage of Sylvia, you recognize her voice in undeniable. Orlando Pulse reminded Queer and Latinx folks that it was time to honor our siblings who came before us and honor those we have lost. To surround ourselves with familia, and look to know that we have been here and as a QTLatinx community we will continue to thrive.

I am grateful to my QTLatinx community/familia, and advocates for highlighting our voices. I honor and will continue to honor those lost at Pulse and can only hope my work will reflect the resiliency of my community. I hope to always carry those impacted by this violence near my heart and it is with that, I have tried to create change.

A veces llega la lluvia
Para limpiar las heridas A veces solo una gota
Puede vencer la sequía
Y para qué llorar, pa’ qué
Si duele una pena, se olvida
Y para qué sufrir, pa’ qué
Si así es la vida, hay que vivirla, la la lé
Voy a reír, voy a bailar
Vivir mi vida, la la la la
Voy a reír, voy a gozar
Vivir mi vida, la la la la
¡Eso!
Voy a vivir el momento
Para entender el destino
Voy a escuchar en silencio
Para encontrar el camino

-Marc Anothony, Vivir Mi Vida

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Julia R. Golden

Associate Dean of Students at MCPHS University. #Latinx #QTPOC #DoctoralStudent #UMassBoston