Shock, sadness, solidarity and resolve mixed together this week as the ripples of the mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando, Florida spread through the local LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community.
President Obama referred to the shooting as both “an act of terror and a hate” crime. Terror because of the possible links between the shooter and terrorists groups. Hate because it was directed at a gathering place for the LGBT community of Orlando.
“When you wake up to this kind of stuff, people were edgy, hesitant,” said Richard Zaldivar, Founder and CEO of the Wall Las Memorias Project.
Zalidavar, invited by President Obama to celebrate LGBT Pride Month at the White House, went from sharing his excitement and the photos he took inside the prestigious event on Facebook to waking up just hours later to the news of the massacre at the PULSE nightclub.
He was expected back to ride in the Gay Pride Parade in West Hollywood and like thousands of others, he was determined not to allow fear to deter him from going forward with his plans, but he was keenly aware of everyone’s concern and heavy heart.
“It shocked a lot of people back into the closet,” said the founder and head of the nonprofit organization.
Zaldivar has been a catalyst for social change, dedicated to promoting wellness and preventing illness among populations affected by HIV/AIDS and has acknowledge those that lost their lives to the disease with the creation of the by The Wall Las Memorias AIDS Monument.
“Our community is resilient. We need to move the forces into action and activism, and not deter from what we do in our daily life.”
People gathered by the thousands in downtown Los Angeles and in the San Fernando Valley.
San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles Vigils Held Tonight and Weekend
Two events are scheduled to remember those lost in the Orlando shooting to create unity and understanding among the LGBT and greater community.
Today, June 16, the Northeast Valley based organization, Somos Famila Valle organizes the Pride Month Art Exhibit “Protect Our Children: (Re) creating Family Acceptance,” as part of the LGBTQ Pride Festival at the corner of Sherman Way and Owensmouth Avenue in Canoga Park from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
On Saturday, June 18, Wall Las Memorias Project sponsors “Lincoln Heights Raise Our Pride” taking at the Church of the Epiphany, 2808 Altura Street in Los Angeles beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Hate Crimes in Los Angeles County
Unfortunately for the LGBT community, hate crimes are nothing new.
“Our community is victimized on the daily basis in small towns and rural areas. The Trans community is targeted, beaten up and often killed,” Zaldivar said.
The Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations (LACCHR), in its annual analysis of hate crimes released last September, stated that there were 389 incidents reported in the county in 2014, the second lowest in 25 years.
A total of 198 of those cases had to do with attacks based on race, ethnicity and national origin. That’s a seven percent decrease from 2013, when there were 214 of those cases.
But 108 incidents were crimes committed based on sexual orientation, a 14 percent increase in comparison with 2013, when there were 95 cases.
“The rate of violence in sexual orientation crimes has always been high, but it climbed from 71 to 81 percent, the highest since 2003,” the report stated. “Anti-transgender hate crime continued to be the most violent of any major targeted group, with 93 percent of all such crimes being of a violent nature.”
The largest number of crimes occurred in the Metro area, followed by the San Fernando Valley.
Hate Crimes In The San Fernando Valley
“We have had two killings in the San Fernando Valley in the past 13 months,” said Ronnie Veliz, an activist in the San Fernando Valley LGBT community.
One of those killings occurred last year on Jan. 31. Firefighters responded to a blaze early in the morning and found Yazmin Vash Payne stabbed to death on the kitchen floor of the apartment she shared with Ezekiel Dear.
Dear was eventually charged with killing his transgender girlfriend before setting their apartment on fire. The suspect walked into a local police station two days after the killing and turned himself in. Dear remains in custody, and is scheduled for court for a pretrial conference on June 20.
In March this year, Shehada Khalil Issa was arrested after police found his son shot to death outside and his wife stabbed to death inside his North Hills home.
The case sent shockwaves and became national news after it was revealed that the 69-year-old man apparently committed the crimes because his son, 38-year-old Amir Issa, revealed he was gay.
Issa is currently held without bail. He faces the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole for the crimes.
Decades of Violence
Veliz, who is part of Somos Familia Valle — an LGBT youth and parent organization in the San Fernando Valley — noted “this terror and violence has been happening for many decades.”
He said the fact that the Orlando attacker’s ex-wife and former co-workers acknowledged that he had expressed homophobic views for years, “shines a light on the urgent need for supporting the LGBT community and all communities of color. LGBT Muslims have always, and will always, exist. Love and acceptance must win.”
Similarly to the experience of others in the Gay Community, last Sunday morning, Veliz said he woke up to hundreds of text messages telling him to “be careful out there.”
“Flashbacks of all the reasons why I escaped Peru came back to my mind,” said Veliz, after learning about the Orlando shooting and seeing media images.
“We’re very familiar with structural violence and homophobia. We know what it’s like because that’s what we have lived,” he said.
Veliz added that the Latino component of the case must also be acknowledged. The shooting apparently happened at a gay club that catered primarily to Puerto Rican and on a “gay Latino night.”
“This is a ‘state of emergency’ opportunity for the whole country and the whole world to acknowledge that we are more than marriage equality. That didn’t save us,” Veliz said. “This is a sign that we have to go back to the roots of our movement that were about the safety, dignity and the liberation of the LGBT people, particularly people of color.”
The Road Ahead
For Zaldivar, the shooting was also a reflection of the propagation of “hate speech” at the national level.
“When somebody speaks racism from the podium, that has the tendency to bring fear in people. That becomes hate, and it becomes horrible actions,” Zaldivar said.
He noted that the timing of the Orlando shooting is not coincidental.
“It’s symbolic. During the month of June we all come together, said said Zaldivar,
“Now it’s the time to come together as a greater family.”
For both Zaldivar and Veliz this is a call to action, an opportunity to unite their community, and provide more understanding about LGBT issues for the general public.
“We need to be hopeful and continue organizing so that the Valley and neighbors are educated why the LGBT community within the Latino community matters,” Veliz said.
“We are going to continue working with our youth and our familia (families) to make sure we liberate our people from any signs of homophobia and transphobia.
Only then we can have a safe San Fernando Valley for all.”