After the Pulse tragedy, I wrote a long Facebook post analyzing the media coverage and Episcopal Church response to the mass shooting. My post was about ways in which LGBTQ+ and Latinx persons had been erased from the narrative given the incessant and one-dimensional focus on the shooter and guns. The reality of who was targeted touched the depths of my being. I viscerally felt that the shooting was an attack on many of my people: queer and Latinx, and not just Latinx, Puerto Rican. It was the very queerness and puertorriqueñidad of many of the beloved who died that was being erased, even in the denomination I serve as priest.
My reaction against the invisibility had to do with my knowledge and experience of places like Pulse as places where one feels whole. As so many have said, Pulse was a sanctuary, and sanctuaries are places of wholeness and holiness—thus, how could so much of the coverage and response have been so dismissive of the very persons targeted and murdered? It matters that so many were queer and Latinx.
In addition to the persisting and insidious homophobia and racism in the US, the erasure of queer Puerto Ricans is related to the continued subjugation of a people as a colony, without a real path to self-determination—except, often, choosing to leave the island—and of which many in the US, including the LGBTQ+ community, know nothing about. Beyond it having been “Latin Night,” given the current economic nightmare suffered by all in PR, it was no surprise to me as to why they were so many Puerto Ricans at Pulse, and why so many families in the island suffered and had to bring their loved ones home to rest.
[A year ago, that very week, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that Puerto Rico is a colony and cannot make its own decisions and must wait for a committee of Congress to make decisions for them (NYTimes.com 13 June 2016: “Supreme Court Rejects Puerto Rico Law in Debt Restructuring Case”). And this year, the sham of a status referendum, in which people vote for the economic dream purported to be offered by statehood, which could only be granted by Congress—the very entity that tacitly allows for the economic situation in PR to persist and deepen (NYTimes.com 11 June 2017: “23% of Puerto Ricans Vote in Referendum, 97% of Them for Statehood”).]
Beyond being a colony, for Puerto Ricans names matter. Lest I be accused of hypocrisy, I, like others have used the NYTimes image of the names of those killed as a way to remember them, but now I am unable to overlook the fact that the names on that list are alphabetized incorrectly. The American appropriation of their names angers me, and is so dismissive of their heritage, and reaffirms Puerto Ricans as the perpetually colonized. The media, the church, and LGBTQ+ organizations have used such a list without further thought.
Having grown up in the island, I am accustomed to using both of my last names. Both, not hyphenating or keeping one as a middle name, I have one of those too, but both representing both sides of my family. Living in the mainland, I either use only one last name (for convenience), or when I use both, many then choose how to name me, often picking the one at the end, as is a normative US custom assumed for everyone else. I have let it pass from friends and colleagues, who may learn such nuance from this reflection, as a lost cause or as an unwitting nudge to my mom in a society that can easily erase the Puerto Rican part of my heritage.
On the anniversary, I yearned for my church, the Episcopal Church, to recognize the wholeness of all those who died at Pulse, including the fact that many were queer and Latinx. I found an Episcopal Church which was offering a service of remembrance on June 12. I went looking for sanctuary, solace, and wholeness; what I found and felt was a further erasure of the wholeness of my people; an erasure of me; an appropriation by others, by the reading of the names on that list by only seemingly non-Latinx colleagues and in an assumed correct order—a colonized list.
It is the arrogance and colonial appropriation of the very identities of the victims that is seen in such a list, and which dismisses the very wholeness that they were living out at Pulse, and which was preached at the service. Those who were at Pulse that night, or at a queer sanctuary elsewhere, were living fully their whole selves—the very selves God has always fully known them to be, including their queer and Latinx identities. By paying attention, perhaps going forward, the least that should be done is to remember them as they fully were, respecting their names, and honoring their wholeness.
Reverend Carla E. Roland Guzmán
Rector of the Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew and Saint Timothy
Co-Chair of Faith, Family, Equality: The Latinx Roundtable