The mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando June 12 sent shockwaves of horror and grief through gay communities across the country. The suffering has been particularly acute for queer Latinx communities; the shooting took place on Pulse’s Latin night, and nearly half the people killed were of Puerto Rican descent.
Thirty-Fifth Ward alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa is one of many Chicagoans with deep roots in both communities: the city’s first openly gay Latino alderman is also a second-generation Chicagoan of Puerto Rican and Mexican descent.
Ramirez-Rosa spoke to the Reader by phone earlier this week, to describe how he was processing the largest mass shooting in U.S. history.
Where were you when you found out about the shooting in Orlando? How did you react?
It was early Sunday morning. I was still in bed. My partner, Bryan, shook me, woke me up, and told me that there had been a shooting in a gay nightclub in Orlando. Unfortunately in today’s day and age, mass shootings have become all too common. So, it wasn’t a shock. “Oh, another mass shooting?” Then I got out of bed, and my partner was just really really sad. He’d been listening to NPR and I sat down and started watching MSNBC. Then it really struck me. As I saw pictures of the victims, I started to cry. I understood why my partner had been so affected by it and why he felt the need to wake me up. Then we kind of just embraced each other. It really hit close to home.
Did you have this sense of, this could have been me?
I had a sense that it could have been my partner. This is something that hit the Latino community, the gay community. It could have happened in a gay nightclub anywhere in the country. And it was Latino night at this gay nightclub. So when I was sitting there watching the reporting, seeing the pictures of the victims coming up on TV, I understood that it could have been my partner, it could have been my friends, it could have been many of the people that I love so dearly.
How has Chicago’s Latino community reacted to the Orlando shooting?
I think that, immediately, many people in the LGBT community felt the need to take action. The [City Council’s] LGBT Caucus and I, in a group text message, started discussing the shooting, the safety for the Pride festivities this month, how we would take action to address this tragedy. We had a vigil that Sunday night at the corner of Roscoe and Halsted. It was unsurprising to see so many people there, to see so many people impacted by this.
But then the Latino community started to really take note that the vast majority of the victims were Latino, that it was a gay Latino night. Many of us started to talk about the role that Latino night at a gay club plays. Sometimes you may not be out to your family—you may be closeted because you don’t feel comfortable coming out to them, or you’re scared that they won’t accept you. Having that space once per month that you come together as a community, is in many ways sacred. In many ways that space is a place of resistance, where you can finally be yourself.
To have that space taken from you by this act of hatred and terror, to know that people who were letting their hair down, so to speak, that were feeling comfortable and safe in a place that was really their own, to know that it had been violated, really hurt a lot of us. There was a lot of discussion about the important role that these gay Latino spaces played in our life. I’ve been out in Boystown and I’ve been subjected to racism. I’ve been subjected to microaggressions from queer white men, who may just fetishize me or my friends. The Latino night at a gay nightclub is a very important space for our community.
When the news came out that 23 of the victims had been identified as Puerto Rican, we also felt the need as a Puerto Rican community to address the loss of those lives. Saturday at the Puerto Rican People’s Parade down Division Street, we led a contingent of 40-plus people who carried pictures of the victims, carried signs saying “We Are Orlando”—”Estamos Orlando.” We designed a logo that was in the shape of the Pride flag and the Puerto Rican flag coming together. It was important for us to memorialize this in the minds of the Puerto Rican community. To let our straight brothers and sisters in the Puerto Rican community realize that this was not just a tragedy for the LGBT community, this was also a tragedy for the Puerto Rican community.
What if any new safeguards do you think the city should consider to protect the LGBTQ community in Chicago?
I do think that it was important that [Chicago Police Department] superintendent Eddie Johnson attended last week’s vigil at the corner of Roscoe and Halsted, and expressed CPD’s commitment to keeping the LGBT community safe during this month. I also appreciate the mayor and the police department coming forward and saying that they will have an additional presence at the festivities.
But we can’t get caught in this trap to think that the way that we will avoid future incidents like Orlando is to have more police or more police surveillance. The police, historically, have also committed acts of violence against LGBT people and LGBT people of color. We have to be very sensitive about this and we have to understand that ultimately, it’s not more guns, it’s not more police that will be able to stop these crimes. It’s not more surveillance, it’s not excluding Muslims from coming into the country. What we really have to do is address the hatred and bigotry that have been pushed both culturally and politically by politicians and by individuals who seek to capitalize off of it. So until we address that hatred, until we change the culture in our society, no one is going to be safe.
A Supreme Court decision overturned Chicago’s handgun ban. Given the spate of mass shootings and the epidemic of gun violence in Chicago, do you think the city should consider enacting new gun restrictions?
The Second Amendment was created when we didn’t have the guns that exist today and we didn’t have the violence that exists today. So to that extent we need to ban assault weapons. We need to ensure that we are allowing people to partake in hunting and other sporting activities, but that we are not allowing people who want to commit harm on this scale to have access to guns. But ultimately what we need to address is a culture of violence, of hatred, of bigotry against people of color, against the LGBT community. We have to address and understand that the perpetrator of this crime went to our schools, was raised in our country, and ultimately he was a product of the United States.
How do you see the Orlando shooting impacting Chicago’s Muslim community? Are there any legal changes or activism work you have planned for that?
The vigil on Sunday was also attended by faith leaders of the Muslim community. One of the things that we have to keep repeating after the incident in Orlando is that hatred against LGBT people, homophobia, and internalized homophobia are the culprits, but Islamophobia also plays a role. The LGBT community has rejected Islamophobia. We as a community that has experienced hatred and bigotry, will not allow this incidence to be used as a justification for hatred and bigotry against our Muslim sisters and brothers.