Club massacre sparks outpouring of support for gay Hispanics
The day Angel Castro came out to his family, he had to force his mother to listen. Back then, 20 years ago, being gay was a taboo and not spoken of in his home.
Many of his relatives turned their backs on him.
Today, Castro’s mother supports his relationship with his husband. Castro, 48, feels fortunate that people are more accepting and that his family has come around. But he still knows many who are not as lucky.
A massacre that claimed 49 lives and injured more than 50 people at an Orlando nightclub earlier this year may begin to change that. The rampage, which struck during a “Latin night” event at Pulse nightclub, has hit home for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Hispanics nationwide. Most victims of the June 12 attack were gay, and most were Latino — about half Puerto Rican.
For many, the tragedy was a turning point.
After the massacre, hundreds of people showed up at Orlando blood banks to donate blood for the victims. The turnout was so big that a lot of blood banks reached full capacity.
Daniela Torres, who is gay, thinks the shooting may bring more acceptance for the LGBTQ community.
“Performers who are straight have expressed support for the community. Politicians, mothers, fathers,” Torres said in Spanish. “I think we can transform this into something positive. Storms happen and the sun comes out, so let’s wait for the sun.”
Torres said things have definitely changed since she first told her family she was lesbian five years ago.
In the beginning, her family could not understand why “she liked girls.” But she had already made up her mind not to let anyone’s opinion — including her family’s — get in the way of her happiness.
Support from family and friends has grown since then. She feels like she can be herself around her loved ones.
She’s not alone — the tragedy has unified the Latino LGBTQ community nationwide, says Carlos Guillermo Smith, who oversees government affairs at the advocacy group Equality Florida.
“The tragedy has resulted in a lot of dialogue and the dialogue has led to more understanding and with more understanding there is more acceptance,” said Smith. “It’s not a secret that Hispanics are not so accepting to the LGBT community, but we are starting to see that change.”
Smith was recently invited to attend Forest Lake, a Seventh-Day Adventist Church which traditionally has considered homosexuality a sin. Hispanic leaders gathered to commemorate the lives lost at Pulse as a way to support the LGBTQ community and receive them with open arms.
“This is very symbolic for people who understand Hispanic and Latino culture,” Smith said. “They know it is a big step towards understanding and acceptance.”