Outward

Parents of Slain Orlando Couple Will Honor Their Sons’ Love With a Joint Funeral

Juan Guerrero and Drew Leinonen will have a joint funeral after they were killed together in Orlando on Sunday.

Via Drew Leinonen & Pulse Victims Facebook page

As one crushing sketch of Orlando victims after another comes out, it’s become clear many of the men at Pulse nightclub were there with boyfriends, lovers, and partners. They included Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37, and Luis Daniel Conde, 39, who had been together 13 years. And Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35, who had met Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37, years earlier at a perfume shop where Perez worked. Oscar Aracena-Montero, 26, and Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31, had just purchased a home together.

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All of these men were gunned down at the club.

As we try to absorb these details, it’s hard not to wonder what will happen next to the victims. Did they have relationships with their families? Who will receive their remains, and how will their lives together be honored? These questions may be deeply personal, but for queer couples who have faced violence and tragedy, they’ve also been inevitable and inescapable for decades. These concerns, in part, helped gestate the push for marriage equality, especially during the height of the AIDS crisis, when many families opted to mask sexuality and long-term relationships. The legal status of the Orlando couples isn’t clear. But while mourning is always unimaginable and complicated, for many of these victims, there will be yet more indignities—as if their murders weren’t enough.

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That’s one reason why a report Monday about another couple is especially moving. Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22, and Christopher “Drew” Leinonen, 32, had been dating for almost two years and living together. The Associated Press reports that Guerrero had only told his family he was gay at the end of last year; an Instagram photo showed Guerrero and Leinonen in December, embracing their parents in Santa hats. “They were honestly so in love. They were soul mates. You can tell by how they looked at each other,” Guerrero’s older sister, Aryam Guerrero, told Time.

The two men were reportedly next to each other when they were killed at Pulse.

On Monday, after both their deaths were confirmed, the families said they planned to hold their funerals together to celebrate the life they might have shared. “If it’s not a funeral, they were going to have a wedding together,” Aryam Guerrero said.

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“I think my son wanted to do that,” the elder Juan Guerrero, 61, added. “That’s why. I don’t care what the people think. I don’t care.”

The joint funeral was the idea of Leinonen’s mother, Christine Leinonen. She became a national symbol of Orlando grief following a widely viewed news interview on Sunday in which she emotionally pleaded for information about Drew, her missing son. He was finally confirmed dead on Monday; the two families said they plan to organize the funeral service together in the coming days.

This is a deeply moving gesture from both families—a powerful signal that they will honor the dignity of their sons’ lives and relationship. We don’t know, and may never know, about the relationships the other Orlando victims had with their families. But we have to hope the Guerreros and Leinonens inspire others facing such unimaginable loss to do the right thing, to honor the victims’ lives as they lived them. Sadly, history suggests that not all of them will.

Read more from Slate on the Orlando nightclub shooting.

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