Last night I was frantically sharing all sorts of articles about what happened in Orlando, Florida last Saturday. I liked the Pulse page, read hundreds of Facebook posts and articles, posted several Instagram photos and couldn’t help crying once and again and again as the news developed and unfolded in this dramatic fashion.
I felt stupid and weird because I live in Montevideo, Uruguay and usually these mass shootings feel so far away when it happens in America.
And yet this time around it felt almost like it happened to me or a loved one. And in spite of reading tons of information at first, I couldn’t quite understand why I feel the way I feel.
Don’t get me wrong, I am involve in International Affairs and I work in a Human Rights NGO so I am fairly versed on what’s going on. My ability to empathize with other people struggles is strong. But this feels different. You may think that since I am a Latino, the pain I feel is related to that closeness to the victims’ culture. That is not the case. My hometown is the southern capital city in Latin America and our identity is way different from the rest of Latin America. Or at least that is the way I see it.
And so I talked to a friend who confessed he felt the same. Exactly the same. And we started to explore why we feel like this. He is way colder than me. He is a tough dude and he doesn’t open up that much, so I was mesmerized and I felt the need to start writing my ideas about why he, and I, and so many people from our community — most of them living outside the US were so shocked, sad and emotional about what happened in Orlando.
While these shootings were happening I was in a gay club in Montevideo. I was dancing, drinking and having fun with some friends.
I was feeling free. I was feeling just like the 300 hundred people at Pulse were feeling. It could have been me.
Even though Uruguay has progressive laws, just like in the USA, discrimination towards the LGBT community happens on a daily basis. Many transgender women here in my country are killed and their murders are not being solved by Justice. In addition, job opportunities are few to none for them, to name a few of the struggles they face.
As an openly gay man I face discrimination every day. Sometimes the derogative terms are so offensive that I wear my headphones so loud not to hear them my head ends hurting really badly. And that is a reality for visible members of our community.
Where I belong to if you are a cisgender white male you will not face discrimination and life is filled with opportunities the rest of us are denied. The rest of us are the misfits, the ones that do not fit in the conception of “normal” this sexist patriarchal Western society we are submerged in establishes as correct. According to everything I read it feels like in the US it is pretty much the same.
So a gay bar it is a place for us, both in the US and in Uruguay, to be ourselves. For some, the only place they can free themselves from the chains society imposes.
Until last Saturday you may feel like the need for gay places for us to gather was going to be less and less until not existent, as acceptance towards new models of normal are spreading faster than ever. LGBT community is more widely portrayed in arts and culture and even in politics. Legal marriages as well as other revolutionary bills have been passed in several countries so why would our community segregate itself? These places are needed because outside of the big cities gay people need a safe place.
Hate crimes happen all the time all over the World. The story of our community is the story of our struggles. Homosexuality is illegal in many countries, and in some places it is punished severely, even with the death penalty, and I felt guilty about not feeling the way I feel now every time I hear that news. I guess I don’t feel the same because that news is tragically expected; you cannot rationalize emotions and a huge etcetera.
The Orlando shootings feel closer home. This homophobic terrorist attack is not just a shooting in which 49 people died and 53 were wounded. It is an attack on our freedom in one of the only places in which we were free for so long, even long before we could hold hands or kiss our significant other freely without fear. If it happened in the US it could happen in any other place of the free world. Religious intolerance seems to be increasing everywhere.
And even though not everywhere everyone can buy guns like in the US, hate crimes take different forms according to the place in which they take place.
When President Obama addressed his nation said: “In the face of hate and violence, we will love one another. We will not give in to fear or turn against each other.” And that is what happened in our community both globally and locally. We are together, closer than ever. That is why I feel sickened, sad and impotent of what happened there. Because I am a part of the LGBT community, because in a wider sense it also happened to me.