Appreciating, protecting our safe spaces

Posted on 17 Jun 2016 at 8:45am

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Jesse GarciaLike many Gaytinos, I began my Pride Month with a visit to Latin Night at Washington, D.C.’s popular gay bar, Cobalt. Every first Saturday of the month, Cobalt dedicates its third floor to Latin music and performances by drag talent that appeal to the small, but growing Hispanic lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population in the district.

D.C. doesn’t have a seven-day a week Latino gay bar like Dallas does, but the city has several spots during the weekend that cater to LGBT Latinos.

During Latin Night, Cobalt is jam-packed with patrons arriving near midnight. Many are in their 20s, just getting off work after putting in long hours to afford living in one of the most expensive cities in the country. They’ve had just enough time to go home, get dressed, and jump on the metro to head to the Dupont gayborhood, where rent is nowhere near affordable — especially if you’re an LGBT Latino immigrant or a Puerto Rican U.S. citizen who left the island because of the economic crisis.

Still, these young Latinos trek back to the hood, and they’re ready to party. Some of these individuals are thousands of miles away from home. So Latin Nights have a special place in our community — our chosen family. It’s beautiful to see this younger generation expressing themselves, living in a world where being gay or trans is accepted, and more importantly, legal.

And Latin Night is something to behold with all these new freedoms.

Queer people of color dominate the dance floor. Couples elegantly dance in sync to the sounds of Bachata, then transition into Spanish pop with the next song — and lo and behold — the D.J. spins a hit from Tejano legend Selena (which warms my native Texan heart). And without missing a beat, these Gaytinos jump from genre to genre flawlessly.

I saw this fem queen lead his butch date all night — because, of course, he was the better dancer. But these two, like others at this bar, aren’t hung up on gender roles. They’re living their true selves at Cobalt. This is their safe space.

That’s what I pictured when I thought about Pulse this week — an Orlando neighborhood bar where people escaped problems, homophobia, transphobia, racism, poverty and violence.

For the young, it was a place to be themselves, to hear Spanish music that speaks to their souls and makes them proud to be Latino. For older guys like me, it was a safe place to hold a guy’s hand or kiss someone without worrying about machismo attitudes that have conditioned us to never act like a sissy in public.

The shootings at Pulse changed everything when it comes to national tragedies. This event forced leaders across the political spectrum and news media to mourn, recognize and uplift some of the most marginalized people in this nation: LGBT Latinos and Latinas, including immigrants.

After 9/11, we had to seek out stories about Latinos, gays and immigrants who died in that tragedy to remind folks and our own communities that we suffered loss, too.

In this Orlando incident, the worst mass shooting since the execution of Native Americans in the 19th century, the story cannot be whitewashed. The majority of victims and heroes were people of color.

This past week, people across America have read multiple accounts of those who were killed and injured. For some, it forced them to identify with people they would never associate with or come across in their social circles. This tragedy put a human face to a community that is often neglected or scapegoated.

The frustration and push back by queer people of color in the aftermath of Orlando is being felt. I attended a vigil where I saw black, brown and Muslim queers lead the event and set the agenda to make sure everyone was heard. I witnessed minorities being ushered to the front of the rally so their voices wouldn’t be drowned out.

I looked at the reactions from our Anglo brothers and sisters who were surprised at being relegated to the back, but who, after reflection, understood that another community within our LGBT family was disproportionately affected, and it was their moment to grieve and share.

Speakers need to share the whole experience of what these Orlando victims endured. The amazing lives they lived despite obstacles they may have encountered:

• The undocumented who worried about being deported or losing family in the next raid.

• The transgender person of color who was often a victim of discrimination and crime.

• The Latino youth who was outed in the worst possible way to their family because of his or her death at Pulse.

LGBT Latinos and Latinas need to process and speak out on this tragedy — and the many tragedies you will never read about.

Last year, a report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs showed a 20 percent increase in murder rates between 2014 and 2015. Transgender and gender-nonconforming people of color made up the majority of homicides, according to the report. It was also reported that people of color and undocumented survivors were more likely to experience physically violent forms of hate violence.

Just like Latino Nights across the nation, it is important for the community to allow LGBT Latinos and Latinas to have their own space. We need to speak our own truth during this moment of grieving. And I thank those who have allowed us to do so.

Jesse Garcia is a former Dallasite now living in Washington, D.C. He cofounded the League of United Latin American Citizens Dallas Rainbow Council in 2006, and in 2015 cofounded a second council, LULAC Lambda DC, in the nation’s capital to continue the dialogue between the Hispanic and LGBT community.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 17, 2016.

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