Her voice cracking, self-described Latina butch dyke Lisbeth Meléndez Rivera told a Washington vigil that she had known some of the victims of last weekend’s shooting massacre at an Orlando gay Latin dance night, where a gunman declared allegiance to the Islamic State before killing 49 people. Then she invited her wife, whom she said was “half-Muslim,” to stand with her.
“The conversation in my house this weekend was about what it is to be Muslim, what it is to be Catholic; to live at the intersections of all of who we are,” Meléndez Rivera told the crowd that gathered at Washington’s Dupont Circle on Monday night. She closed by saying a prayer in Spanish.
The vigil’s attendees stood at a complex crossroads of the LGBT community, Muslims, and people of color who all face discrimination and hate crimes in the United States. Reeling with anxiety that it easily have been them who were gunned down, they expressed frustration about political portrayals of the attack.
The vigil was organized by the Muslim American Women’s Policy Forum. On the Dupont Circle fountain, signs with the victims’ names were adorned with flowers and candles and a makeshift altar held a rainbow flag and signs decrying hatred and violence.
Sahar Shafqat, a co-founder of Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity, told Foreign Policy she was compelled to help organize the vigil by “tremendous grief” and “anxiety about backlash and being demonized.”
Hours earlier, Shafqat watched dueling speeches by presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump with dismay. She said both demonized Muslims and that both politicians “have not been exactly champions of the LGBT community.”
“If Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton would understand that there are queer Muslims, that there are queer Latinos, I think their heads would explode,” Shafqat said, adding that the election season had targeted both Muslim and transgender people.
A moment of hope, however, came in seeing straight Muslims standing up for LGBT people, Shafqat said. “I don’t want [the Orlando shootings] to be used as a justification for violence overseas, violence against people in the U.S., or for racial profiling,” she said.
During the vigil, prayers were offered in Hindi, Spanish, English, and Arabic. One was delivered by Sister Sedusa, a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a drag performance group, whose face was covered with white pancake makeup and painted-on blue tears.
Many speakers — including those who identified themselves only by their first names — pointed out that most of the shooting victims were LGBT Latinos and Latinas. Speakers urged the crowd to understand the shootings as a homophobic hate crime made possible by easy access to assault rifles, rather than any ties to the Islamic State.
“I’m a felon. I can’t vote,” said Daniel, a man who was visiting D.C. from Florida. “But I can buy an assault rifle in Orlando.”
The final speaker, a middle-aged man named Frank, was met with cheers when he described himself as a “big old fairy faggoty fag.”
“We are here, we are alive, and we are breathing,” he said. He invited the audience to take their grief and turn it into a sound. The crowd roared. He then asked that everyone turn the love they felt into a sound as well. Hundreds of people hummed and sang.
“Carry that sound with you,” he said.
Photo credit: MEGAN ALPERT/Foreign Policy
Correction, June 14, 2016: The speaker who identified as a Latina butch dyke is Lisbeth Meléndez Rivera, not Rosa Menendez Rivera as a previous version of this article stated.