Of the infinite obscenities of the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, there is this: bullets and death disrupted a space created by queer people of colour in order to celebrate music and life.
When 49 people, mostly LGBTQ and mostly Latinos, were massacred at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last weekend, they were in a sanctuary of self-determination and joy. I know there was joy there because of a video posted by one of the victims, Brenda Lee Marquez McCool on Facebook at midnight, just hours before the shooting. In it, bodies of blissfully undefined genders and races dance salsa under neon lights. Bacchanal is the purpose of any good club night, but to many marginalized people bacchanal is more than the sum of good music, good dance and good drink. Bacchanal is both transcending and inhabiting a body that is criticized – nay, hated – every day, learning to practice love for one's self and one's community in the face of dark odds.
There's a party happening this weekend in Toronto called Wyze Gyal. It's not the same as Latin Night at Pulse, which featured drag shows, merengue and bachata. Wyze Gyal will have a West Indian vibe, with soca and dancehall, as well as ballroom sounds for those who practice the dance style best known as voguing. But both are nightlife events thrown by and for queer people of colour. When I heard about Pulse, I thought almost immediately about Wyze Gyal and I felt heartbroken, angry and sick.
Bars and clubs have long been an important site of liberation for trans, lesbian, gay, bisexual and other queer people. The most famous incident, of course, is the 1969 riot at Stonewall Inn in New York City, but Canadian clubs have been at the centre of queer resistance for decades, too.
Many 1980s gigs played by Toronto DJ Denise Benson were parties, as well as queer and feminist fundraisers. "It's really easy to forget that before social media, it used to be difficult to find out not just where the gay bar was but that other gay people existed," says Ms. Benson. Yes, the queer nightclub is about dancing and lustful hooking up and that's nothing to apologize for. But mainly, it's about community, says Ms. Benson, author of Then & Now, a history of Toronto nightlife and creator of some of the city's earliest loud, proud nighttime activity.
I first heard the now-classic Sean Paul tune Get Busy during Pride 2002 at Ms. Benson's venerable Cherry Bomb party, which is also happening this Saturday. It's a crystallized moment for me, hearing West Indian sounds in a space full of women where I was free to dance wildly, free of the male gaze. And I'm straight. Gay clubs are special, and the more marginalized a person is, the more special they are.
Pulse, for one, is in Florida, where it's only been legal to engage in "same-sex sexual activity" since 2003, and gay and transgender people are still unprotected by workplace human rights laws. Latin night at Pulse – for which the flyer was decorated with drag queens - is important.
Wyze Gyal promoter Lali Mohamed is Somali, both queer and Muslim, and this has been a painful week. Even before the Orlando tragedy, he and the party DJs (who are from Grenada, Iran, Jamaica and Trinidad) felt that many of Toronto's LGBTQ spaces and conversation dominated by the most privileged among them: cisgendered, able-bodied white men with decent incomes.
Mr. Mohamed has heard many queer people express anti-Muslim sentiments, since shooter Omar Mateen claimed allegiance to Islamic State. "The aftermath of Orlando doesn't allow me to grieve," he says. "[Queer Muslims] have to prepare ourselves for the wrath of Islamophobia and racism."
In the face of this hurt and exhaustion, sometimes going dancing really is the only option. And as with queer nightlife for decades, both Cherry Bomb and Wyze Gyal will be much more than drunken jams. Every attendee will feel the gravity of being in such a space after such a week, and I imagine that both parties will have some Latin American sounds thrown into the mix.
Dancing will inform mourning and back again, revelry and grief will intermingle. Queer people of colour will move from margin to centre, refusing to be invisible.