Less than a week after 49 people were killed and more than 50 injured during a gay nightclub’s Latin night in Orlando, dozens of young people descended on a park in Roxbury Saturday afternoon to dance, eat, craft, and assert their unity as LGBTQ people of color.
For the past four years, the Hispanic Black Gay Coalition’s HUES program has hosted the picnic, called BASK, as an opportunity for people of color to lay claim to Pride Month, which organizers say often caters only to the white LGBTQ experience. But this year in the days leading up to the picnic, many attendees said, they grappled with pain, shock, and — for some — fear about gathering in a public space.
“We want to convene and regroup, but we’re also scared,” said Binh Le, 28, who has attended BASK every year since its inception. “We all grew up knowing there’s this risk, but when you’re faced with the reality of it, it’s really a stark reminder.”
Last Sunday, a gunman walked into the Pulse nightclub around 2 a.m. and opened fire, launching the nation and especially the LGBTQ community into mourning.
In Boston’s warm afternoon sun, with dance music pulsing around the tree-lined Gertrude Howes playground, a tragedy like the one in Orlando seemed unthinkable. But, Le said, “safety is an illusion.” Several of her friends have told her they are now more cautious about visiting LGBTQ spaces, be they mid-afternoon picnics or late-night gay bars.
Manu Miranda, 29, who deejayed the event, said he, too, has become more alert to the vulnerability of his community in the wake of the Orlando mass shooting.
“As a Latino, [the attack] felt very personal,” said Miranda, who is Venezuelan. “I’m more aware of my surroundings. But also without that feeling of paranoia, because I don’t think that’s healthy either.”
Many attendees shared Miranda’s desire to move forward as a show of resilience. HUES program manager Mala Maya, 22, said police asked organizers if they wanted extra security for the event, but organizers turned them down — partly due to many people of color’s distrust of police, and partly due to a desire to demonstrate the strength of their community.
“We have to love and support one another,” Maya said. “We don’t have to rely on the police to protect each other.”
That support was evident at the picnic Saturday, withpeople sharing food and neighborhood children flying kites shaped like peace doves. Ty Defoe, a Native American artist and storyteller, strung an enormous dreamcatcher on a nearby tree, which attendees could decorate with crafts of their own. Defoe said the branches of the dreamcatcher represented the interconnectedness of all people.
As she shared scallion pancakes with a friend, Amanda Reveles, 20, said she spent a long time coming to terms with her identity as queer and a woman of color. The Orlando attack threatened to impede that progress. But she has chosen to focus on communities like the one at BASK and the empowerment they give.
“This community, we can all be strong together,” she said. “I can be who I am with other people who are like me.”