Since we’ve gotten accustomed to the United States’ recurring cycle of mass shootings, there are a few developments we know to expect in the days and weeks following Sunday morning’s brutal massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Families both born and chosen will struggle to make sense of their unimaginable loss. There will be vigils, mourning, and celebrations of community. There will be fundraising campaigns, some of which will be scams designed to capitalize on grief. There will be unanswered pleas for gun control reforms.
But because the majority of victims of this shooting were LGBTQ, the fallout from Omar Mateen’s attack will take shape around the limits that homophobia and transphobia place on queer visibility and full social affirmation. Details about the identities and lives of the victims are still emerging, but unfortunately, we know there will likely be special indignities in store for the queer and trans people who were slain.
Some victims may not have been out to their families; others may have been out and shamed, or shunned, by their families of origin for being their beautiful, true selves. If they were not committed to another by marriage or other legal union, these individuals’ bodies will be returned to people who may be related by blood but do not recognize and validate their true memories—instead of to their queer chosen families or partners. Some may be buried under names they stopped using long ago, under false gender designations, in masculine or feminine dress clothes they never would have worn anywhere on this earth.
These are violations visited upon thousands of queer and transgender people after their deaths, no matter how peaceful or tragic they may be. They are a direct result of the climate of hate, exclusion, and indifference to queer suffering fomented by political and religious leaders who champion anti-gay language, anti-trans legislation, and rigid gender boundaries with roots in anti-femme misogyny.
There’s also another set of consequences that are specific to this crime, which targeted Latinos and Latinas in a bar that catered to LGBTQ patrons. When a man with an assault rifle mows down dozens of people in a school or movie theater, there is little reason for public accounts to speculate about the victims’ sexual or gender identities. The victims and survivors at Pulse, whether they identified as queer or not, have been seemingly outed to their families and communities. Many of the people Mateen killed were so, so young—some in their early 20s, barely old enough to drink; one just 18 years old. Maybe they hadn’t had the chance to come out to their families and friends yet. Maybe they hadn’t even processed it for themselves.
Some probably died never knowing whether their families would or could ever accept their full selves, especially if they came from religious or traditional family cultures. “My gay friends from [Orlando in the ’80s and ’90s] have similar stories—we’re children of immigrants, once closeted and fearful of how our families would react when they found out,” wrote Matt Thompson at the Atlantic on Tuesday. “I can’t stop thinking about the possibility that someone like us was hurt or murdered at Pulse on Sunday morning, outed in the very worst way, in a phone call every family dreads. For some parents, such a call would be a double heartbreak.”
The New York Times reports that one of the massacre’s survivors, whose parents live in Mexico, had left the club to put some belongings in his car when his boyfriend of three years was murdered inside. The survivor is not out to his parents and has kept his name out of the press. Many other survivors, friends, and partners in similar circumstances are surely left to process the trauma they witnessed and grieve their losses alone.
In the aftermath of the Pulse shooting, government and law enforcement officials have discovered that the majority of the victims were Latino or Latina, which was to be expected, since Mateen attacked the club on Latin night; the majority were of Puerto Rican origin, four were citizens of Mexico, and one was from the Dominican Republic. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, but how many other victims had undocumented family members forced to risk deportation, profiling, and violence by interacting with police officials? How many of the dozens wounded, or the many more who escaped physical harm but witnessed a world-shattering tragedy, were undocumented and obligated to do the same? How many of those will be able to access public or employer-funded health services to help them heal?
The Orlando shooting is as much a tragedy as any of the other slew of mass murders committed in the U.S. in recent memory, but many of its victims will be left to suffer additional injustices because they died or were wounded in a society that undermines the dignity of LGBTQ and Latino people. This tragedy will be a painful reminder for many that this country’s immigration policies and tolerance for homo- and transphobia continues to erode the humanity of our fellow residents, even in death.