Last night, on a special episode of GAYCATION, hosts Ian Daniel and Ellen Page traveled to Orlando after the Pulse nightclub shooting to learn how survivors and those affected are healing from the tragedy. To further explore how Orlando's Latinx and LGBTQ communities are coming together to recover and what more needs to be done, Daniel spoke with Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida, an organization working to advance LGBTQ rights in the state and creators of the Pulse Victims Fund, a history-making crowdfunded trust. He also spoke with Nancy Rosado and Zoe Colon of Hispanic Federation, a coalition of Hispanic community-service agencies and creators of Proyecto Somos Orlando, a fundraising and social services organizational effort. Below is an edited and condensed version of their conversations.
Ian Daniel: Tell me more about Equality Florida and how the organization's been working to secure LGBTQ rights.
Nadine Smith: Florida has a long history of state-sanctioned LGBTQ discrimination, the consequence of which is the normalization of hatred toward LGBTQ people that becomes discrimination and violence. We've been working to end discrimination in schools, employment, housing, and public accommodations, and we've actually been pretty successful.
One of the most powerful moments after Pulse was hearing Orange County mayor Teresa Jacobs basically apologize for a message that made the world less safe for gay people. There's been a softening of hearts and an opening of minds in the aftermath of Pulse—an understanding that you really do have to uproot and end the normalization of hatred toward LGBTQ people, as well as the discrimination and violence that grows from it.
Daniel: When you heard about what happened at Pulse, what was your initial response to help?
Smith: I was vacationing with my family in Disney World, and my phone began to ring—it was five, six o'clock in the morning. We got everybody on the phone because we wanted to account for our Orlando staff. It wouldn't be unusual for our team to be there.
We immediately launched the GoFundMe page because we knew that in the aftermath, we needed funds to flow in a way that were sensitive to the demographic. We wanted to make sure that undocumented folks weren't denied access to resources, too. We were astonished at how quickly it took off. When we hit the $3 million mark, GoFundMe put together a powerful video that inspired more to give—and they pinned us to the front page so that anybody who went to Go FundMe saw this outreach. They were quite incredible.
Daniel: How are the funds being put to use?
Smith: We publicly committed that every penny collected would go to victims, their families, and survivors. September 25th is the cutoff for determining how much money has collectively been raised, and based on that number, funds will be dispersed on that date.
We insisted that these funds would include people who didn't get hit by a bullet but went through this horrific trauma—many were held hostage for hours, so crisis counselors and other help services were made available. At the feedback hearings on how funds would be dispersed, victims of other mass shootings spoke up and specifically lauded Equality Florida for making sure that this process unfolded in a way that honored the victims. We were honest and transparent about where the money was going, and they hadn't experienced that before.
Daniel: Nancy, I saw a glimpse of you in the video for Jennifer Lopez and Lin-Manuel Miranda's "Love Make the World Go Round."
Nancy Rosado: Yeah, I made a quick guest appearance on The Today Show for it.
Daniel: I loved seeing your face flash across the screen. Last time I was in Orlando, discussing the issue with you, you expressed a lack of celebrity support from the Latinx community. How did that shift and what was the impetus for the song?
Zoe Colon: Jennifer Lopez had already written the song, and she thought that after Pulse it would be a great way to motivate people to keep dancing and spreading love in the face of hate. Her and Lin-Manuel Miranda wanted to fund organizations that were going to ensure services were being delivered over the long haul, at the hands of bilingual, bicultural professionals that really understand our community.
As of July 4th, they committed 100% of the proceeds from the digital downloads in the first three months, and it was played at the Zumbathon, a huge annual conference for Zumba that takes place in Orlando. One of the survivors, Angel Colon, is a Zumba instructor, and he danced to the song. It's had a lot of meaning for the Orlando community and particularly the Latino community. We know that at least 27 victims were Puerto Rican, right? So to have two Puerto Rican global superstars take action and create a song that talks about resilience in the face of hate was really moving.
Daniel: Nancy, what has the healing process for the communities been like?
Rosado: I don't think the Latino community was as organized as the LGBTQ community to deal with something like this, but the effort that is starting to be made is positive. We're seeing young LGBTQ Latinos coming together, and the Latin community is coming together, whether straight or gay, to see how they can reach out. To pull something together at such a difficult time is heartwarming because, to be honest, before this it could be a very fractured community. We come from so many different countries and everyone pulls in their own direction. Because of religious beliefs, the Latino community has historically been a little leery about dealing with the LGBTQ community. An attempt is an attempt, and I'll take it before we have nothing.
Colon: I want to add that there has been little to no investment in Latino-led initiatives and community-based organizations, which is part of the reason we were not able to respond the way that the LGBTQ community was able to. At the end of the day, LGBTQ issues and immigration issues are Hispanic and Latinx issues. Out of this tragedy has come the opportunity to establish ourselves as key players and partners in the community. Hopefully there will be an investment going forward.
Daniel: What are the main issues in the Latinx and Hispanic communities that you think people watching our show need to be thinking about now?
Rosado: The economic situation for people in Florida right now is horrible. Congress' Promesas Bill, which would lower the minimum wage for men and women in Puerto Rico under the age of 24 to $4.25, is going to cause another wave of migration. With that comes LGBTQ young folks trying to establish themselves here in America—because who can live on $4.25 an hour? Now we have to keep our eyes open for our community that's coming over in bigger numbers. We are a community that is very affectionate and warm, so this isn't a terrible thing—but they'll require assistance, because life here is significantly different. It's not about sacrificing your culture, it's about learning to adapt to a culture that currently exists.
Colon: We want the mainstream media and the world to know the intricacies and dynamics of being alive in a Latino community, the need for culturally competent services.
Somos Orlando is offering case management services and sending people to mental health services of all different types, like art therapy and family and group counseling for those who may not be ready for one-on-one counseling. We're creating a roster of Attorneys that can provide provide pro-bono law assistance, and we're providing community education within the LGBTQ community, but also in the broader community.
We're providing safe spaces to ask questions—there were so many layers of what happened at Pulse that night that we want to unravel and have our community ask questions around. A big part of what we're doing is building confidence and working within the LGBTQ community with culturally competent, hispanic, bicultural, bilingual providers. We're training therapists, and partnering with both new and more established organizations to do cross-training. I think our response is going to be significant in the years to come—we're going to be able to respond to the support needs of the Latino LGBT community for the long haul.
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Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that undocumented immigrants are not receiving cash assistance from the national compassion fund in the wake of Pulse.