An Open Letter To Straight People: Why Queer People Of Color Spaces Matter

I have this running joke with my boyfriend.

We hold hands in public. I flinch.

"Can't do that. Gonna get hate crimed!"

He leans in for a kiss. I back away.

"Can't do that. Gonna get hate crimed!"

It's a sick, twisted sense of humor. I recognize that. Most of my queer family possesses it as well given the dark experiences we've been through but with the recent tragedy in Orlando, I like so many of my peers am reminded that hate towards us is still a chilling reality.

I must admit I haven't felt this way -- this invested, this impassioned -- about a shooting before compared with others for several reasons.

Since the tragedy I've heard a handful of questions from straight friends innocently ask why do we care so much. It's not like we were there.

Sure we weren't but it hits home so closely because the attack was in a space where queer people seek refuge and kinship. It's supposed to be safe, and that's what gay bars have always been there for. You can be whoever the hell you want in there. That's magical. And that's why it hurts.

But even more so, the beautiful people who lost their lives or whose lives were tragically altered by this attack were queer people of color, and that's why the cut feels deeper.

I came out after college when I was 23, later in life compared with a lot of my contemporaries. And when I did, it was amazing. I felt free and it was only until I started going to gay bars did I feel like I had found my tribe.

As I grew into my newly formed identity, I found myself gravitating towards other queer people of color. It was with them who I felt safest with -- who I shared secrets with, who I fell in love with, who I learned to be comfortable in my own skin with.

Most of those years were spent in Chicago and my friends and I would frequent Latin, "Blatino" specific nights at the gay bars.

So when the Orlando attack happened and I hear straight people ask "Why was there a Latin night?" or comment "I didn't know there was a gay Latin night," I cringe a little.

Those spaces exist because within the queer community there are other minorities who have shared experiences that not every queer person can relate to.

Often times, we come from immigrant families where our culture and our parents are ten steps behind when it comes to understanding these issues compared with our white American queer brothers and sisters.

And it's important we recognize this and that the majority of the victims in Orlando were queer Latinos.

While I didn't know them, my heart breaks because I feel like I know some of their stories. It's not easy to come out as a person of color, as a child of immigrants. The fact that they all congregated during Latin night to be with their own, and for this to happen, sickens me, because you have attacked something so sacred that you would never understand unless you walked in their shoes.

Their hardships, their struggles are every queer person of color's and they were robbed of living their authentic lives.

In my attempt to open dialogue about gay issues with my parents (it's still a touchy subject), I texted my father on Sunday asking if he's seen the news about Orlando.

My father who is an immigrant still has very conservative views and I said to him, "This is why we need stricter gun laws. I could have been in there," to which he replied, "Just came back from church. Gun control won't stop killings."

I left it at that.

Not only did I want him to recognize how f*cked up our lack of gun control laws are, I wanted him to recognize that this was a hate crime on a community I dearly love and am a part of.

I love my dad but this is the struggle us queer people of color are still contesting in our homes, which is why we have gay Latin nights, gay Asian nights, gay black nights, etc. in the clubs.

Please don't forget that and please don't erase these beautiful queer people of color from this story.