In SF, Latinos March for Orlando

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Saturday June 25, 2016
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Hundreds of LGBT Latinos and their supporters marched from the Castro to the Mission Saturday, shrouded in grief for the 49 lives lost in the mass shooting at a gay Orlando nightclub and vowing to show love for each other in the face of hate.

Forty-nine of the marchers were asked to carry signs bearing the names of Pulse nightclub victims.

David A. Diaz, 50, a gay man who lives near the Castro, carried a sign that bore the name of 22-year-old Peter Gonzalez. Diaz drew a red heart underneath Gonzalez's name.

Most of the people killed June 12 at Pulse were gay Latino men. Another 53 people were injured in what's being called the worst mass shooting in the U.S.

"As a gay man and as a Cuban-American I strongly identify with the victims of this tragedy," Diaz told the Bay Area Reporter as he marched. "When my family escaped Cuba they started their journey in the U.S. in Florida, so if they'd made a different decision I might have grown up in Florida, and I might have been one of those people. It's important to me that their identity as Latinos isn't erased."

The June 18 march was coordinated by a number of Latino LGBT organizations, with assistance from longtime gay activist Cleve Jones, who helped to get the word out and organized the march's Castro District commencement. Jones and queer housing activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca were among those who led the hundreds of marchers as they made their way past the Castro Theatre.

The march turned left onto 18th Street, continued to Mission Street, then turned right, where attendees walked through the heart of the primarily Latino Mission district.

It continued to 24th and Bryant streets, where a memorial service honoring the dead was held in front of Galeria De La Raza, an art gallery and artist collective that serves the local Latino community.

Ani Rivera, left, executive director of Galeria de la Raza, and Lito Sandoval, president of the San Francisco Latino Democratic Club, spoke to the crowd at the Mission rally. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland

"For decades we've asked people to meet in the Castro to mourn our losses and celebrate our victories," Jones told the B.A.R. as the march was getting underway. "Today we're marching to the Mission to show our solidarity with a community deep in grief. We're here to support what the Latino LGBT community is organizing."

As the march made its way through the adjoining neighborhoods, many passersby applauded. People stood in the windows of their homes waving rainbow flags.

"I'm here because it's a tragedy," said Edgar Littleton, a gay African-American man. "They've been killing gays for hundreds of years, and no one cares. This must stop."

About midway through the march, participants began chanting "Viva, Orlando! Somos Orlando!" (Orlando lives - we are Orlando.)

"It all boils down to love," said Steve Ibarra, a gay man who declined to share his age. "Love is at the core of our behavior and understanding. If we can just be the love we want to see in the world, the world would be peaceful and loving."

Those sentiments were echoed repeatedly as the speakers began their program in front of Galeria De La Raza. The ceremony began with a prayer for peace, healing, and remembrance by Estela Garcia and the Two Spirit Drummers.

Lito Sandoval, president of the San Francisco Latino Democratic Club, noted that Latinos and other communities of color often face discrimination and exclusion, even within the LGBTQ sphere.

"We are devastated over the loss of 49 queer, and trans Latinos and Afro Americans," Sandoval said, speaking from the podium. "We are here today in solidarity. Our communities often have to make separate nightclubs - even in LGBT communities our spaces like Esta Noche are routinely shut down because of escalating gentrification."

Esta Noche was a popular queer Latino club at 16th and Valencia streets that closed in 2014 - the space is now a trendy straight watering hole called Bond bar. Drag queen Persia, a regular performer at Esta Noche, performed during the program. She danced her way from the podium down into the crowd and hugged several attendees.

Several speakers decried the attempts by mainstream media to make the Orlando murders about the war on Islamic terrorism - the shooter, Omar Mateen, 29, was an American citizen of Afghan descent. They noted that Islam does not condone violence.

Alex. U. Inn, a popular African-American drag king, broke down into tears as he took the podium. Inn noted that fellow drag king Kimberly "KJ" Morris was among the dead at Pulse.

"If we could all say I love you to each other when we see each other," Inn said as his voice cracked, "we can change the world from hate to love just by our spirit."

Gay District 9 Supervisor David Campos, who represents the Mission, is working to erect a memorial to the Pulse shooting victims at Harvey Milk Plaza in the Castro.

On Monday, gay Supervisor Scott Wiener, who represents the Castro, told the B.A.R. that he envisions a community process for any memorial, but that he and others are supportive of it.