Why the Orlando Massacre and Puerto Rican Self-Determination Are Connected

“If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution.” 
 — Emma Goldman, political activist and feminist

Krash, Junior’s, Cups, Tia Marias, Chuecas, Bum-Bum Bar, MusicBox, Friend’s Tavern, Atlantis, Papi Juice, Azúcar. These are some of the queer latinx clubs and parties that saved me. Some don’t exist anymore. Some I even hesitated to name, because exposing them might bring harm. Our safe havens. Our temples.

Since the mass shooting in Orlando, many have written about the importance of the club as safe space for LGBTI people of color who are often rejected by their families or pushed out of their countries due to homo/transphobia, and struggle with homelessness, employment discrimination, unfair immigration laws, and abusive policing. Pulse was a safe haven for Queer latinxs in Orlando. Many of the 3,000 Puerto Ricans fleeing the island every week immigrate to Orlando. Some call Orlando the 79th municipality of Puerto Rico.

As the names of the victims of the Pulse shooting started showing up on my screen, I felt it in my gut. Sotomayor, Almodóvar, Ocasio-Capo, Ortíz-Rodríguez. “These are probably all Boricuas,” I said to myself. In fact, a day later it was confirmed by Puerto Rico’s state secretary that 23 out of the 49 murdered were Puerto Rican. Boricuas looking to build community and a safe space in a club.

I was reading these names after having marched with the first ever LGBTI contingent at New York’s Puerto Rican Day Parade. It was a bittersweet day: our community had come so far. We were being recognized, honored, and celebrated during the largest celebration of Boricua pride. We marched with Puerto Rican gay flags and signs that said #NOPromesa. As we passed through the crowds of millions, the abuelitas cheered us on, and as folks celebrated us, they celebrated our message to reject colonialism on our island. The day before the parade, at the first ever Encuentro of LGBTI Puerto Ricans at Hunter College, we decided we had to carry this message, because we understood the connection between the fight against colonialism and the fight for LGBTI liberation.

On the day after the mass shooting in Orlando, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that Puerto Rico could not have autonomy over its debt restructuring processes. The week before, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill called PROMESA, to impose a fiscal control board that would strip Puerto Ricans of their autonomy.

As you plan vigils and collect donations for the families, I urge you to also draw the connection between Puerto Rico’s fight for self-governance and our desire for queer liberation. Understand that many of us are here in the United States not by choice, but because we have been pushed out of our countries by U.S. imperialist laws — that have at times exported models of homo/transphobia and have increased violence against our communities.

This week, the UN called for Puerto Rico to be decolonized and for “Puerto Ricans to determine their own political future.” This connection matters because Puerto Ricans have endured hundreds of years of colonialism. It matters because our queer/brown/Boricua bodies wouldn’t have had to immigrate to Orlando if our land was ours.

Congress, through the PROMESA bill, wants to lower the minimum wage for folks under 25 living on the island. Who can survive on $4.25 an hour when that’s the price of a gallon of milk? Prices for groceries in Puerto Rico are 13 percent higher than in any other state in the U.S. We cannot afford to live in our own paradise. And while we’re in exile, our families are becoming older, our neighborhoods are becoming deserted, and our schools are closing at disproportionate rate.

If you want to take action, specifically around the issue colonialism in Puerto Rico, read about the PROMESA bill. Organize a talk about the history of colonialism in Puerto Rico in your local LGBTI organization. Organize a protest. Join others who are protesting.

I am angry and tired, but I will not stop fighting for our right to self-determination. We should be able to decide whether or not we will die in our own land. We should be able to decide how we will steer our future. What this tragedy has unearthed for me is the necessity to fight for Puerto Rico’s self-determination — now more than ever.