It has been over three years since forty-nine people were murdered at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Public attention has waned. But for certain communities, it is impossible to forget that in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 12, 2016, a man with a semi-automatic rifle and a pistol opened fire on the bar's patrons. It was Latin Night, a special event held to celebrate Orlando's vibrant queer Latinx population. Consequently, not only were the victims LGBTQ, but 90% were also Latinx, twenty-three of them Puerto Rican. The massacre was, at the time, the deadliest shooting in American history, an extraordinarily brutal act of violence against LGBTQ people, specifically LGBTQ people of color.

Positions on the massacre emerged from all political perspectives. According to conservatives, the shooting was a prime indication that the United States needed to enact harsher restrictions against Muslims and "radical Islamist terrorism." Liberals argued in favor of stricter gun control laws to prevent the effortless purchasing of guns by people with a history of violence. Gay and lesbian advocates emphasized the homophobia of the attack, while others presumed a linkage between the shooter's internal struggles with his own sexuality and his being Muslim. Many of these politicized positions oversimplified the tragedy. In an effort to provide clear answers about what political action could be taken, responses often produced rigid binaries. The identities of the forty-nine victims were claimed for many groups (Americans, gays and lesbians, Latinx), which, in practice, rarely intersected, and were situated against various factions (terrorists, homophobes, Muslims, gun enthusiasts).

But LGBTQ Latinx voices have been largely omitted from public discourse, despite the attack's direct impact on them. Attempts to raise awareness of the demographic of the victims have been labeled divisive. At a Pulse vigil in Missouri, when a Latina college senior called attention to how the queer Latinx community was most affected by the shooting and indicated that white members of the LGBTQ community needed to examine their interactions with race, she was heckled. The student, Tiffany Melecio, asked the crowd, "As much as it is awesome that there's so many people here today, but it's, like, who are you really here for?"1 Two white gay men from the crowd shouted, "We are here to be uniting, not dividing, which is what you are doing now" (qtd. in Givens). When the men were asked what they thought would come of the vigil, one answered, "I expected a community to come to gather . . . everyone [ . . . ] I got someone speaking onstage that tried to make it all about her culture, and that's a common thing now" (qtd. in Givens). According to these men, who claimed to have been fighting for gay rights since the 1980s, it was not productive to bring attention to the fact that the Pulse victims were mostly Latinx. Their statements prioritized sexuality over race and did not take into account the unique forms of violence faced by those belonging to an identity that is othered by both race and sexuality, including the discursively violent acts of erasure and silencing.

Queer and trans poets of color have pushed back against this erasure, producing writing that insists on the specificity of the bodies lost and the bodies affected. A series of anthologies bringing together these poetic responses to Pulse not only memorialize those lost but also embody a collectivity to act against further violence. The work of José Esteban Muñoz and Karma Chávez equips us to understand how these collections contribute to imagining better futures and are political actions in their own right. In Cruising Utopia, Muñoz rejects assimilationist gay and lesbian politics motivated by securing inclusive rights within existing social and legal structures, like marriage or serving in the military. Such homonormativity makes little effort to question or challenge the oppressive aspects of those established social structures. Muñoz asserts that "the present is not enough. It is impoverished and toxic for queers and other people who do not feel the privilege of majoritarian belonging, normative tastes, and 'rational' expectations."2 Instead, he envisions a mode of temporal readjustment that he posits is queer in its hope and optimism for a better future. Utopian desires exist in the present and are performed within everyday moments. In Queer Migration Politics, Chávez discerns a note of deferral in Muñoz's utopian projects and surmises that this may be why they materialize in aesthetic objects rather than political acts. She writes, "The present thus offers more hope and vision than Muñoz suggests" and argues that "[t]he turn to futurity through utopia is ... limited in the possibilities it enables for activist politics."3 Instead, Chávez posits queerness "as orienting not toward the 'not yet' but rather toward coalition" (7).

Coalition serves as a guiding principle for intersectional activism. It invites people of different backgrounds to work together for a common goal. Whereas Chávez is interested in the different coalitions that have emerged to unite queer activism with migration politics, we explore how recent anthologies commemorating the Pulse massacre instantiate both utopian and coalitional dimensions. In the anthologies Pulse / Pulso, edited by Roy G. Guzmán and Miguel M. Morales, and Love is Love, issued by IDW Publishing with assistance from DC Entertainment, writers from disparate groups join together to build monuments against forgetting and to pursue political projects. In both, poetry provides a potent form for this work and for imagining and enacting the forms of collectivity that they hope to sustain.

Love is Love was organized by openly gay comic artist Marc Andreyko, who, with the support of IDW Publishing and DC, compiled commemorative comics dedicated to the forty-nine victims and fifty-three survivors of the Pulse shooting. The anthology was released in January 2017, with all of its proceeds donated to Equality Florida to benefit the survivors and their families. As Andreyko explains in an interview, the anthology itself was a coalitional project: "Because this tragedy affected everyone to some degree, it was important to have diverse voices: gay, straight, trans, male, female, black, white, Latino, Asian . . . I wanted the book to reflect the makeup of the culture."4 The collection is uneven, often spinning into sentimental generality rather than providing a sustained meditation on the event. Yet, despite these limitations, some contributions rise to the surface and posit the anthology as a way to mobilize and to imagine possibility.

Perhaps the most effective efforts combine poetry and comics. "Song of Myself (Remix)," written by Alejandro Arbona and illustrated by Wilfredo Torres, depicts an assorted crowd of people marching together at what seems to be a Pride parade. The individuals within the panels are each drawn reciting a line from Walt Whitman's poem, "Song of Myself." The word "remix" in the title is key. For some, remix is derivative and appropriative, while others see remix as original in its own right, altering the source material in a distinctive creative act.5 Arbona and Torres's visual poem strategically works both sides of this debate. The comic appropriates not just Whitman's poem but also the poem's sense of US national identity. It depicts the Pride parade in order to reimagine who can populate these spaces. In this sense, "Song of Myself (Remix)" gives form to a new coalition to grieve Pulse and imagine a future beyond it.

Fig. 1.

"Song of Myself (Remix)" begins with a panel that features two people, brown and black, carrying rainbow flags. One wears a tank top bearing the pink triangle that is emblematic of the AIDS activism movement of the 1980s with the motto "Silence = Death." The other quotes Whitman, asking "Will you speak before I am gone? Will you prove already too late?" The lines become synonymous with both AIDS activism of the past and contemporary Black Lives Matter movements; it is as if the speaker is imploring the public to speak out before more queer people of color are killed by violence. This violence may stem from police brutality, or it may come from a negligent government that turns a blind eye to the epidemic of gay men dying. The invocation of AIDS activism reminds us that violence currently manifests in restrictive health care policies that affect the health of impoverished black and brown queer people. By placing black and brown characters at the forefront of this comic, the panel highlights how LGBTQ political action does not have to be distinct from anti-racist action. This panel introduces the ethos of the entire comic, which is resonant with Muñoz's conception that "a queer utopian hermeneutic would thus be queer in its aim to look for queer relational forms within the social" (28). The comic represents how coalition can be an inherently utopian project of working "within the social" in the present in order to create a better future.

Relationality, especially as it concerns race and sexuality, is further emphasized in the third panel, which features a light-skinned person carrying a Puerto Rican flag, quoting, "Of every hue and caste am I, of every rank and religion!" Next to them, a person in a turban smiles and states, "It is as great to be a woman as to be a man!" while their shirt reads, "Whoever degrades another degrades me." This panel references the loss of queer Puerto Rican life that occurred at Pulse, as the Puerto Rican flag is held alongside the rainbow pride flag. The use of Whitman's line mentioning "hue," "caste," and "religion" is not meant to gloss over the differences of race, class, and faith, but instead, to acknowledge how these differences coexist within the queer community. This panel reflects how "the presence of a dynamic identity and subjectivity starkly reveals the necessity of coalitional thinking to account for the complexity of people's lived experiences" (Chávez 9). Diverse groups can come together to honor the Pulse victims, and to emphasize that the differences of gender, class, race, and religion do not have to be seen as divisive. The line "Whoever degrades another degrades me" on a shirt resignifies as expressing a political solidarity to "engender temporal and spatial dimensions and refer to the possibilityfleeting or enduringof a coming together, or a juncture, for some sort of change" (Chávez 9).

The fourth panel portrays a person in a hijab, who quotes "Clear and sweet is my soul, and clear and sweet is all that is not my soul!" while she holds a sign that declares, "Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same." Here, Whitman's lines celebrate both the body and the soul as "clear and sweet," countering the belief that a racially marked queer body is degenerate, immoral, or invalid. The sign further challenges views of citizenship as exclusively white. As Chávez writes, "The preservation of whiteness literally depends on heterosexuality and appropriate gender norms, creating an interwoven relationship between the 'nation-as-white' and the 'nation-as-heterosexual' that leads to policing all kinds of borders" (11). Since the panel portrays someone who is implied to be Muslim with a sign proclaiming that she is "born here," it defies stereotypes of Muslims as foreign "others." The comic's display of her soul as "clear and sweet" also rejects the impulse to blame Islam for the Pulse shooter's actions.

The last panel blends together the themes of acknowledging differences, celebrating queerness, and expressing joyful love. Many people are shown marching with signs, blurring the distinction between parade and protest and calling back to Pride's roots as a protest movement. One person proclaims, "All the men ever born are also my brothers, and the women my sisters and lovers!" while signs read "O unspeakable passionate love," "every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you," and most prominently, "I AM LARGE. I CONTAIN MULTITUDES." Recent critics have noted how Whitman's "multitudes" were exclusionary and white, but Torres's illustrations recast the multitudes as a multiracial coalition.6 The power of this new collectivity is further underscored in the page's architecture, which makes this panel span the whole page, as though the collective supports the individuals depicted in the grid on top of it. The common goal of an LGBTQ public is apparent in the line "every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you," which has a dual meaning of camaraderie and the validity of a queer, racialized existence. By portraying these particular characters at the Pride march together, the comic undermines how "many of the characteristics aligned with US citizenship...tend to reinscribe norms of urbanity, whiteness, heterosexuality, maleness, ability, and middle-classness" (Chavez 13). Ultimately, "Song of Myself (Remix)" represents a possibility the coming together of marginalized bodies to fill the spaces they are sometimes excluded from, whether the Pride parade or US national identity. The visual poem reflects the project of the anthology, which brings together different writers and artists to imagine a future and to unite in the action of producing the volume.

The anthology as a coalitional endeavor is apparent in Pulse /Pulso, a chapbook-length volume edited by Honduran American poet Roy G. Guzmán and Miguel M. Morales. The volume grew out of a viral poem, "Restored Mural for Orlando" that Guzmán wrote in the immediate aftermath of the shootings. Originally published on the website Public Pool, the poem was picked up by the NPR show LatinoUSA, which exposed it to a larger readership. Although not included in Pulse / Pulso (it became a chapbook of its own), "Restored Mural" resulted in an invitation to Guzmán to edit a collection of poems about the Pulse shootings by queer and trans people of color (QTPOC). Guzmán's poem intimates the need to gather together bodies in the face of an event like Pulse. In "Restored Mural," for instance, the speaker of the poem recalls attending a drag show at a local gay bar a few nights before news of the massacre in Orlando, reflecting:

. . . / I am afraid of attending places
That celebrate our bodies because that's also where our bodies

Have been cancelled / when you're brown & gay you're always dying
Twice / . . .

Here "cancelling" entails both the erasure of difference and, in the wake of Pulse, the possibility of death, and suggests the everyday trauma that QTPOC contend with, even in spaces that are zones of pleasure and celebration. Pulse's amplification of everyday trauma into a shattering event is registered in the poem's form, which consists of a thirty-six couplets filled with slashes that penetrate and disrupt the solidity of those lines. If trauma breaks us apart and makes us what we were not before, poetry is one way of beginning to return the shattered self to a form. The poem's title "Restored Mural for Orlando" gestures to the communal nature of this form. Murals, like anthologies, are negotiated spaces that invoke and mark the presence of a community. Not surprisingly, the poem has an arresting visual form whose last stanza ruptures the pattern of the whole by being a single line: "For them we learn to touch again. For them we walk home / & we are safe." Similar to the final panel in "Song of Myself (Remix)," this single line seems to support all that comes before. However, unlike Ardona and Torres's work, which mounts its edifice on a form of collectivity that is large and boisterous, Guzmán offers a coming together that is more fragile and intimate. The final line of "Restored Mural" provides a way of thinking about the anthology Guzmán and Morales assembled: as a place for coming into contact across difference to assert a presence based on the vulnerabilities we share.

The poems in Pulse / Pulso insist on the specificity of the victims' lives as a way of recovering the event not as a generic gay tragedy, nor simply as an occasion for a reflection on gun control, but as an event that highlights the specific ways QTPOC are subject to violence. As Guatemalan American poet Maya Chinchilla phrases it in the collection's opening poem "Church at Night," "erasure revictimizes you."7 In an interview about the anthology, Morales notes that "it hurt to see so many commemorations of Pulse exclude our voices but we did what we always do, we buried our dead and made our own space."8 The anthology, then, becomes a space to recover the bodies of the dead by restoring their particularity and a space to gather those who felt erased, excluded, or pushed to the margins. Julia Leslie Guarch's "Shh. Shh. Be Quiet" recovers the scene of violence by weaving in the final text messages Eddie Jamoldroy Justice sent to his mother during the shooting, while Chinchilla addresses the dead, reminding us of the tangled ways that QTPOC lives are documented and silenced:

not that your death might be your coming out story
or that your last selfie would be used to identify you
by family across borders who loved you and depended on you
because documents even matter in the afterlife.

If some poets conjure the images of those who were lost, others speak of the necessity of being able to express the totality of their pain. In Nicole Oquendo's poem, the speaker pleads, "do not erase my grief. there is a galaxy of this / spreading out inside of my chest."9 By bringing together QTPOC writers who represent an array of genders, races, and sexualities, the anthology creates the expanded space that Oquendo describes, one exemplified in a stanza from Tessara Dudley's "Mourning Glory":

The morning after we caught his bullets at the club
"terrorist" flew fast and hot from lips
that never acknowledged their own violence
while newspapers deadnamed Goddess Diamond
denying her dignity even in death10

Dudley's grief expands over five lines to include not just the shooting but the ways in which police fail to recognize the terror they inflict on marginalized communities and how the press' insensitivity to QTPOC concerns results in further pain. At the same time, the stanza connects Pulse to other moments of QTPOC violence, in this case the murder of a transgender woman in New Orleans the same month as the Pulse massacre. Here, the coalition gathered by the anthology helps to expose how the violence of Pulse is systemic rather than exceptional, while also demonstrating how forms of knowledge are built between bodies in proximity to one another.

Yet, the collection is not without its utopian moments. Chinchilla concludes "Church at Night":

Queerly beloved,
we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life
. . .
Our job, to keep the beat going,
Cause the pulse never stopped,
Finding love in hopeless places

We're tired of being so resilient.
Pero, love beats here.11

The opening lines allude to Prince's "Let's Go Crazy," a song that starts with a church organ in the mode of a eulogy and ends as a party. Prince's lines also reference the Christian marriage ceremony, which Chinchilla queers in order to imagine unions of all types that will sustain us "through this thing called life." The Prince song tacitly reminds us of the nightclub, a place of possibility that, despite our fatigue over "being so resilient," we gravitate toward because of the throb of desire, or the beat of the heart, or the simple human hope that connecting with another will produce something momentous. Chinchilla's mention of resilience alludes to a line from her well-known poem, "Solidarity Baby," in which she describes herself as "coming from a long line of resilience."12  "Resilience" recognizes the triumph of persisting in the face of erasure, and, in both "Church at Night" and "Solidarity Baby," resilience is something we do with others. It is "our job" a figuration that presents resilience as an ethical imperative and in familiar language that recalls Latinx associations with labor. If that job is "to keep the beat going," the beat has taken on several significations: it is the celebratory beat of the club's music, the romantic beat of a desiring heart, and the beat of a muscle the size of fist that keeps us alive. The final line, pausing with "Pero," reminds us that this isn't some facile "love is love" mantra, but rather is one specific to a particular community who, through their resilience, ensures that a pulse endures. Pulse anthologies demonstrate a similar optimism of the will.

While Pulse anthologies may be a conspicuous example of bringing together writers in an action and a speculation about the future, they are by no means the only. Recent Latinx history has been a record of crises that have included such events as the 2014 child migrant crisis, Hurricane Maria, family separations at the border, ongoing uncertainties about DACA, and a rise in anti-Latinx rhetoric that has exploded in events like the recent shootings in El Paso. Through these travails, we've seen poets respond, movingly in their verse and also in action, joining forces with others, forming coalitions, raising money and awareness, and planning political action. Most recently, Writers for Migrant Justice, a group organized by poets Anni Liu, Javier Zamora, Jan-Henry Gray, and Christopher Soto sponsored a forty-five-city reading to raise money for detained migrants. Although the event hasn't resulted in an anthology, the coming together of poets in anthologies organized around crises participates in this kind of work, mobilizing bodies into new coalitions. In this way, this work engenders a connection to the history of protest poetry, to the activist roots of ethnic studies, and to futures that are still being imagined.


  1. Orie Givens, "The Time Two White Gay Men Heckled a Latina at a Pulse Vigil," The Advocate, June 17 2016. Further references cited parenthetically in the text. []
  2. José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (New York: NYU Press, 2009), 27. Further references cited parenthetically in the text. []
  3. Karma Chávez, Queer Migration Politics: Activist Rhetoric and Coalitional Possibilities (Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois Press, 2013), 6. Further reference cited parenthetically in the text. []
  4. Nivea Serrao and Marc Andreyko. "Marc Andreyko Talks Comic Anthology 'Love is Love' + Matt Bomer's Excerpt," Entertainment Weekly, March 28, 2017. []
  5. David J. Gunkel, Of Remixology (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2016), xix-xx. []
  6. See for example CAConrad's "From Whitman to Walmart," or Josh Kun's discussion of Whitman in Audiotopia:  Music, Race, and America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 29. []
  7. Maya Chinchilla, "Church at Night," Pulse/ Pulso: In Remembrance of Orlando, ed. Roy G. Guzmán and Miguel M. Morales (Richmond, VA: Damaged Good Press, 2018), 12. []
  8. Andrea Williams, "'All. Art. Is. Political.': An Interview with Roy Guzmán and Miguel Morales," The Wrath-Bearing Tree, September 2018. []
  9. Chinchilla, Pulse/ Pulso, 20. []
  10. Ibid, 31. []
  11. Ibid, 13.[]
  12. Maya Chinchilla, The Cha Cha Files: A Chapina Poetica (San Francisco: Korima Press, 2014), 3.[]