I’m from the south, where southern hospitality has always been something that has kept me humble and hopeful, like a sun that won’t stop shining. As I continue to grow up and make a new life halfway across the country, I witness the distaste that this country has towards the LGBTQ community and it makes me cringe a little.

As a gay Latino male, my life hasn’t been a battle between being myself or being accepted. Traditional is the word that has lived through centuries in my Latino community. The Orlando shooting broke the LGBTQ community and made us stronger at the very same time. As the gruesome news continued to fill the T.V., death rate rising, and the blood banks continued to take blood donations, the thought that lingered — and still does — at the front of my head is “angry at two men kissing.”

During a recent trip to Miami, the shooter encountered the sight of two men kissing one another in front of his child. Not to mention that other heterosexual couples were also kissing around his child, this troubled him and he decided to act on it. (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2016/06/13/orlando-shooters-father-condemns-attack/85818362/)

Unfortunately, this act of terrorism towards the LGBTQ community isn’t anything that we haven’t seen before: take the Stonewall Riot or the countless murders of gay, trans, men and women in the past years alone. This attack was the deadliest mass shooting in American history, the deadliest incident of violence against the LGBTQ community in American history, and the deadliest terrorist attack on America since 9/11.

“Forty-nine people walked into Pulse that night, having survived a lifetime of cultural terrorism, and still showed up. The rest of this community will continue to do the same. We will continue to show up at every protest and rally, because we are not done. We have been built through wars in this country for loving ourselves fuller, and will not let one man foster a culture of homophobia.”

LGBTQ people have been harassed and intimidated all our lives. We’ve all reached for our spouse’s hand, or leaned in for a kiss, but the difference is, we’ve always flinched and pulled back a little. It’s always something that isn’t quite there for us — safety in any aspect of life. There is always an underlying feeling of anxiety in public spaces. Showing affection is not a commonality we share with other heterosexual couples. It’s both fear and danger; to be gay and alive.

In a bizarre way, the United States has become like the movie, ‘The Purge,’ in that our government does not protect us fully. It is instead allowing criminals like Omar Mateen to own a gun and use it in whatever way they deem fit. I want to know why America creates a system of guns and violence and only sees violence as the problem. Why is it allowed in this day and age for someone to carry a gun into a club full of LGBTQ people and only deem it as “Islamic terrorism”?

The Second Amendment is great if you’re a white American male. But for me and the millions of other LGBTQ members, it isn’t that easy. I fear to leave my own space because I know safety isn’t something my community has been given tangibly. We do not have open spaces to share our love without it being a topic of discussion or an act of terrorism. It isn’t enough to speak on these moments as mere pawns for prevention in the future. The death of 49 innocent people is not a trial and error for next time. America needs to realize we have a gun control problem. The victims in Orlando were my community: men and women, brothers and daughters, my own family.

As my family and I sat around the T.V., we talked about the dangers, perhaps the possibility that something may have been wrong in his life, but we also talked about the way trust breaks once you give yourself to a country who isn’t willing to take you. My older brother found it difficult to talk about the situation because he knew it could’ve just as easily been me. The way America tries to romanticize death as something that we can grow past through prayer and hope will not bring back our loved ones. It is a lingering scent. A bitter taste that does not bring anything sweet in return. It’s a constant cycle … of who’s next.

I came across a news update of the Orlando shooting that described the crime scene as “untouched,” reiterating the sounds of phones ringing filled the room full of empty bodies. I broke down and wondered how someone could look at another person and want them gone. To take multiple lives because they think the way you live yours is ‘uncivil’ makes me question where America comes from when it means “inclusive.” Isn’t it enough that people that identify as trans/transgender are not counted in the U.S. census, but are our deaths counted in these campaigns you release? Did you take us into account when you wrote the Bill of Rights?

As we watch pro-gun politicians like Trump — politicians who are here for better education and gun control, but will not once mention the erasure of Black and Brown lives, the erasure of Black and Latina women and their voices, or the erasure of the LGBTQ community — we will continue to stand stronger together, until you hear us. We will always show up.

We cannot let the erasure of the LGBTQ community be the erasure of our own grief.

Forty-nine people walked into Pulse that night, having survived a lifetime of cultural terrorism, and still showed up. The rest of this community will continue to do the same. We will continue to show up at every protest and rally, because we are not done. We have been built through wars in this country for loving ourselves fuller, and will not let one man foster a culture of homophobia.

Written by Francisco Velazquez

Francisco Velazquez

“I write to remember what living is, and to one day allow my words to live past my existence.”

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