With the memory of the Orlando shooting still fresh in many people’s minds, local Latinx LGBT+ community members deeply wounded by the senseless attack at Pulse Night Club turned out for a “Vigil in Memory of the Orlando Victims” at the new UNIDOS location on Fish Hatchery Road in Madison. The event was held as a celebration of gay pride, in support of the LGBT community, and to remember the victims of the Orlando shooting.

The incident has been a rallying cry for gay people worldwide and a call for activism. Baltazar De Anda-Santana, who helped organized the Madison-area vigil, wants people to know what many seem to have forgotten: the Orlando shooting rampage was also a huge Latino issue. “There wasn’t a lot of media coverage in Madison that pointed out that there were a lot of Latinos who were killed that night. This was a huge attack on our Latino community,” he said.

It was Latin night at Pulse on that Saturday, which meant that a large number of Latinos — gay and straight — came out to dance salsa and listen to music. Most of the 49 people shot dead by a single gunman were Latino — more than half of them of Puerto Rican origin, four Mexican citizens and one man from the Dominican Republic, according to officials.

De Anda-Santana, a longtime Madison leader in both the gay and Latino communities who was recently named director of community and volunteer engagement of the United Way, said the incident has caused him quite a bit of personal pain.

“I remember telling my husband that morning [after the shooting] that we live in a bubble. Quite frankly, we are not safe,” De Anda-Santana tells Madison365. “As a gay man and as a Latino man, we are not safe … even though we feel like we are safe. We simply are not. I was very, very upset as a gay Latino male.”

(L-r) Veronica Lazo, Christian Merino, Diego Campoverde-Cisneros, and Baltazar de Anda-Santana
(L-r) Veronica Lazo, Christian Merino, Diego Campoverde-Cisneros, and Baltazar de Anda-Santana

Members of Alianza Latina and UNIDOS, who hosted the vigil, were also deeply saddened by the senseless attacks. Alianza Latina is a culturally sensitive safe-haven where LGBTQ Latino youth, their families, and allies come together to support each other, create opportunities, and learn about resources and services available to the LGBTQ community in Madison. UNIDOS was started in 1996 as a group of volunteers committed to helping Latina survivors of domestic violence access local services.

About 100 people showed up for the vigil, including Madison Police Chief Mike Koval. De Anda-Santana was happy with the turnout but was hoping for even more people. “I think the people that were there tend to be a lot of the same people who go to all of the events,” De Anda-Santana says. “In my opinion, we need to keep on working harder in our Latino community so they can come to these events more.

“But we did see some new faces and we were very happy about that,” he adds. “A lot of people mentioned that it was a great opportunity to just talk about how the tragedy has affected them personally.”

Alderperson Shiva Bidar was one of the speakers at the event and she addressed the crowd at the vigil. “One of the biggest reflections I’ve had is over the many intersections that we see in our lives,” she said. “The intersections of being a Latino, of being an immigrant, of being a member of the LGBTQ community. I see many intersections in my life in Madison that has really brought to the surface for me the work that needs to be done in our city to continue our work towards equity.
“We have to remember that all of our lives have intersections,” she added. “We need to continue to fight together – whether it’s the fight around undocumented immigrants and avoiding deportations, the fight to avoid violence against our LGBTQ community, [or] the fight for stopping gun violence in our community. I hope that all of us gathered here today can think about what our specific next step is we can take as a community to make a difference in all of those areas.”

Diego Campoverde-Cisneros, a strong advocate for both Latinos and gays in the Madison community, solemnly read off the names of all 49 Orlando victims one by one.

“Today, more than ever, we have to stay strong,” Campoverde-Cisneros said. “The mission of those who died have become our mission. They will be remembered forever.”

De Anda-Santana is thinking about organizing another event on the one-month anniversary of the Orlando tragedy. He says that it’s important that we all do not forget what happened on that night anytime soon.

“It’s something that I will always think about and I hope that as time goes by people don’t forget about the tragedy and all of the people who lost their lives,” he says.