photo: Getty

The Orlando massacre at Pulse nightclub has left the United States reeling in pain. Forty-nine who are now no longer with us went to Pulse on the night of June 12 to enjoy themselves — to dance freely in what they trusted was a safe space before Omar Mateen carried out his murderous rampage.

Since then, attention has focused largely on the victims and the families they left behind. Many mourned the victims’ dreams having been cut short, and who among them may have been “outed” by their deaths. Most of those who died were Puerto Rican or Latinx, so there has also been a lot of talk about how hard it can be to be both Latinx and part of the LGBTQ community.

Orlando Gonzalez, 26, of Miami, lost his cousin Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, in the Orlando shootings. Shortly after 7 p.m. on June 12, Gonzalez penned a heartfelt and moving post on Facebook about Ortiz-Rivera’s death. In it, Gonzalez said Ortiz-Rivera left a void in the family that can never be filled. Gonzalez says Ortiz had been out for many years, which made it easier for Gonzalez himself to later come out.

“He came out as gay when I was in middle school and high school,” Gonzalez says. “I always admired him for the fact that he was a trailblazer.”

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Gonzalez says his family’s elders were raised with really conservative scripture.

"Growing up, there was a lack of education of the LGBTQ community in our family and he (Ortiz-Rivera) had to be the one that educated everyone and bring them up to par that we’re people — we’re not degenerates who are raping children and giving everybody AIDS. He came out at a time when mainstream society or culture had yet to embrace homosexuality."

Gonzalez hid that he was gay as he came of age in his hometown of Orlando.

“There were a lot of microaggressions towards the gay community that I grew up listening to. Even to this day, there’s a war that we have to battle,” Gonzalez says. “My aunts and uncles and even my mother are baby boomers. They still have to battle with their upbringings. I don’t blame them for having these microaggressions… they don’t think that what they’re saying is hurtful.”



From left: Orlando Gonzalez and his cousin Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, who died in the Pulse nightclub mass shooting.

photo: Orlando Gonzalez

Darwin Rivera, who grew up in West Palm Beach, Florida, identified as straight until this year, when he came out and let many of his family and friends know through a Facebook post. The 29-year-old, who works in the sports industry, says he waited a long time out of fear and the stigma that came with being out. Rivera is the eldest of four and was raised in a very troubled home, where he took on many of the responsibilities of helping to raise his younger siblings.

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"Earlier, I think that’s also the factor of why I didn’t come out. I viewed it as taking a huge step backward in terms of where I was in the family… in terms of being the most successful in the family, of going to college. I felt like I’ve built my life up to this certain identity… all this movement forward, to disappoint my family in this way would have been catastrophic in that moment."

Growing up with a Latinx background complicated things.

“I’m originally from Puerto Rico,” Rivera says. “Growing up with a Latino background, I think it’s viewed as a choice and not so much as a birthright.”

Rivera’s biggest obstacle was telling his mother his truth. After she said she loved him, Rivera worked up the courage to post he was gay on Facebook. The post got hundreds of likes and many messages of support.

“It was very encouraging and it sort of empowered me to just be better,” he says. “That was the next step… maybe not so much fixing the brain, but fixing the heart.”

Learning of the 49 people who were killed at Pulse was gut-wrenching for Rivera.

“It was crazy and, just to think of the lives that were taken, me being the exact genre of people that were there,” Rivera says. “Puerto Rican and gay and open… I don’t often go to a lot of gay bars as I’m still trying to get comfortable in that scene, but I do feel like those places are sanctuaries. That’s where we go to be truly loved.”

Janive Santini, 29, and her girlfriend Zasha Garcia.

photo: Janive Santini

The Orlando shootings has deeply affected Janive Santini, 29, and her girlfriend Zasha Garcia, 27, who lived in Pembroke Pines, Florida, and are both Florida natives. Santini says she was sleep-deprived this past week and her eyes start to water seconds into any conversation regarding what happened in Orlando.

"This could have been myself or my partner or any of our friends or allies," Santini says. "We spent much of college going to gay and lesbian bars (sometimes together, which was before we were dating) and these were (and still are) considered safe spaces for us, as well as much of the LGBT community."

While she says she is welcomed in the LGBTQ community as a Latina, Santini says she’s certainly not entirely welcomed as a gay woman in Latino culture.

"That Hispanic pastor who told his congregation to be glad this horrific thing happened wasn't the only one who felt this way. I have had to fight a lot of battles with my family members and show that I can be gay, Latina, and successful financially, who yearns to travel the world with her partner — oh, and we’re totally committed to each other.

Garcia, who grew up in Miami, didn’t become more involved with the LGBTQ community until college.

“I didn't come out to my parents until three years ago,” she says. “Being Latina to conservative religious parents didn't help too much in coming out to them. Internally, I thought they wouldn't approve of my sexual orientation. I knew they would bring their religious beliefs to our conversation. It was a difficult decision to make, but I knew that if I was going to be in my current relationship long-term, this was the right way to go.”

Emy Rodriguez

photo: Emy Rodriguez

Emy Rodriguez, a gay man who currently lives in New York but whose hometown is Orlando, says he lost five friends in the tragedy that unfolded last week.

"Not only has this warped my sense of home, but it has made me think that there is absolutely no safe place on this earth. I lost five friends to this horrible act, particularly one that I was close with. The main affliction is fear, fear to be myself, fear to drink with friends, fear to just be alive."

Unlike many Latinx growing up, Rodriguez says he felt comfortable coming of age as being both gay and Latino.

“My family wasn't homophobic or against anything gay outside of a few ‘maricon’ or ‘le sale las plumas’ jokes, but I did feel uncomfortable early on expressing my ‘gay self,’” he says. “I felt that being Latino and being gay were at polar opposites and you could only be one.”

A few weeks ago, Rodriguez says he was having dinner with a friend who had invited his friends. The table was predominantly white, Rodriguez recalls, and he left a little early.

“One of the white gay males who I had just met said ‘Goodbye papi!’ For some reason, this really bothered me. I realized that to them I will be just a papi and not a fully realized person with emotions,” he says. “I am a genre of gay, not a human being.”

Asked if he wanted to add anything else, Rodriguez says not all Latinx in the LGBTQ community are “papis” and they’re not all urban.

“We are not all spicy or hot or caliente!” he notes. “It's a gift being Latino (same as being anything else) because you have culture, you have duality and, most importantly, you have family given or chosen.”