NEW YORK, NY -- While the 59th annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade honored LGBT Puerto Ricans for the first time in its history, the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida cast a sad and daunting shadow for many marching in the parade, highlighting the violence LGBTQ communities still face.
"We have come a long way, and we were finally recognized by the National Puerto Rican Day Parade." said honoree Pedro Julio Serrano, who was wearing a sash that said Orgullo Puertorriqueño, which means Puerto Rican Pride. "It is with a heavy heart that we march today, but we have to do it because this is our struggle."
Serrano, an openly gay, HIV+ activist, is the executive director of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, an LGBT advocacy group. He called the mass shooting an "unconscionable tragedy" felt throughout the Puerto Rican and LGBT communities.
The shooting at the Pulse night club in Orlando early Sunday morning left 50 dead and 53 injured. The City of Orlando, which has one of the biggest and rapidly increasing Puerto Rican populations in the country, has slowly been releasing the names of the deceased. Among them are Edward Sotomayor Jr., Stanley Almodovar III, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo and Juan Ramon Guerrero.
"This was an act of terror and an act of hate against LGBT people of color," Serrano said. "This is not what humanity is about and we all should respect and love each other."
Ricardo Jiménez, a former political prisoner of Puerto Rico for 20 years, marched in the parade with Serrano, congratulating the progress of LGBT inclusion in the parade.
"This is, in general, the homophobia and transphobia that exists in the U.S.," Jiménez said. "This parade, is dedicated to us, and we are trying to avoid incidents like those. We need to condemn, fully, the situation that happened in Orlando."
Karina Claudio Betancourt, who works with the Open Society Foundation and previously directed community engagement in New York City, walked in the parade in solidarity with Puerto Ricans dealing with the islands's financial crisis as well as LGBTQ people of color who still have to endure violence in the U.S.
"Many of the people that are leaving the island of Puerto Rico because of the debt crisis, and they are going to Orlando," Betancourt said. "It was also Latino night at that club, so we lost a lot our brothers and sisters. Althought today is when we celebrate, we reflect on how homophobia and transphobia still kill us to this day."
Despite the backdrop of the violent shootings in Orlando, Betancourt said the LGBT representation in the National Puerto Rican Day Parade is still historic and should be celebrated.
"Our LGBT brothers and sisters are finally being recognized, and we are finally able to march openly in the parade with our gay and trans* flags, showing our pride," Betancourt said. "We can march with all of our identities together, our LGBT identities and our Puerto Rican identities."
Brooke Cerda, a Mexican immigrant and transwoman, marched with the parade in solidarity with Puerto Ricans. With her fist clenched hard, Cerda took a stand against violence that LGBTQ people, especially trans people, face in the U.S.
"This is the largest mass shooting in the history of this country, and it happened to queer people," Cerda said. "This shows exactly how vulnerable we still are. Yes, we have marriage equality, but how many people must be massacred like that, to die on the ground like a dog?"
When Cerda heard in the news that over 50 people were killed in Florida, she thought a hurricane came through and decimated Orlando.
"You don't need a psychological exam before you get a gun, but in order for people like me to transition, we need a letter from a psychologist," Cerda said. "In the U.S. you can get a gun, no questions asked. I am enraged."