Two men hold balloons and flags at the Harvey Milk Plaza at the Castro. Photo by Marta Franco.

In the wake of news that the deadliest mass shooting in United States history happened at an Orlando gay dance club, leaders from the Mission District community reacted with shock and indignation.

“It’s just so awful, it’s hard to wake up to this,” said Supervisor David Campos, the representative for the Mission District and a gay man.

A vigil at Harvey Milk Plaza in the Castro District is planned for 8 p.m. on Sunday, and several city leaders are expected to attend.

News of the shooting is still developing, but at least 50 people have been killed and 53 wounded by Omar Mateen, a Florida resident and American citizen armed with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and a handgun. He entered the Pulse nightclub — a popular gay dance spot — in Orlando, Florida, near 2 a.m. early Sunday morning.

There he opened fire at clubgoers, shooting dozens and effectively holding dozens of others hostage as they hid in a bathroom and other parts of the club. At 5 a.m. police entered the club and killed the gunman.

Pulse dubs itself “Orlando’s Latin Hotspot” and was holding a weekly Latin dance night on Saturday when the shooting occurred, a fact not lost on those in the Mission District.

“I think these incidents remind you that you can never fully feel safe, especially as a person of color who happens to be LGBT,” Campos said. “There’s a greater risk of violence against you, even in San Francisco. Violence against members of the LGBT community and the gay Latino community is something that can happen anywhere in this country.”

“We have to let people know that this was a Latin night at the club, so lots of gay Latinos were killed,” said Erick Arguello, a gay man and president of the neighborhood association Calle 24. “We have to bring that out also to the forefront and make sure that people really understand the tragedy and that we [gay Latinos] don’t get lost.”

Growing up in the Mission District, Arguello said gay clubs and bars were used as safe spaces when society was less accepting of the LGBTQ community. To see such a club be the scene of violence, he said, was horrific and made him feel unsafe “in the Mission or in the Castro or anywhere else.”

“Those spaces that were sacred, that we created — it crosses my mind if I had to go to any of those bars or clubs, it could happen there,” he said.

Lito Sandoval, the president of the Latino Democratic Club and a queer Latino, said he was not surprised by the shooting but horrified all the same.

“I’m saddened at the loss of jotería while having fun, mowed down while they’re celebrating,” he said, using a slang term for a queer Latino. Sandoval — who cut his teeth as an activist with ACT UP, an AIDS advocacy group from the 1980s — said the shooting brought back the fervor he had as a young gay activist.

“I started up as an activist fueled by anger, and all this does is rekindle my fire to continue to carry on,” he said.

Latino leaders had a previously scheduled meeting at the Lone Star, a bar on Harrison Street in the SoMa, at 4 p.m. to fundraise for the Dyke March and Trans March, annual Pride marches that start out at Dolores Park and go through the Mission and Castro.

Sandoval said that while some leaders questioned whether the fundraiser should go forward, he doubled down and said it would be a mistake to cancel.

“Some people were wondering ‘Should we still continue?’ And what I said was ‘Yes we need to show our resilience by continuing,’” he said. “We continue to fight with, and love, generations past, generations that are here now, and generations in the future.”

“We’re gonna continue, that act of violence is not going make us to stop living,” he added.

The Mission District has a complicated relationship with the LGBTQ community. Arguello said that though the Mission District and Castro “have grown up together” and “suffered and been targeted for discrimination,” there were often gaps in mutual support.

“I think we’ve made a lot of progress over the years,” he said. “But at the same time we have a lot of differences and we’ve tried bridging those gaps.”

Last year, a mural at Galería de la Raza on 24th Street depicting a gay couple, a lesbian couple, and a transgender man was first defaced and then set aflame in an act that was marked a hate crime.

Hundreds came out to support Galería and the muralist. Speaker after speaker spoke to the homophobia they experienced in the Mission District and reaffirmed the ties between the Latino and LGBT community, saying that “the Mission has always had that queer presence.”

Supervisor Campos on Sunday said that the community must respond to the Orlando shooting as it did to the mural defacement, by rallying together and recognizing common bonds.

“I think that it’s an opportunity to remind people of that, and to figure out how we strengthen the ties between not only the Latino and the LGBT community, but between all communities,” he said.

Sandoval, for one, hoped that the queer Latino community would be represented at tonight’s vigil.

“I hope it’s not just another all white event,” he said.

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Joe was born in Sweden, where half of his family received asylum after fleeing Pinochet, and spent his early childhood in Chile; he moved to Oakland when he was eight. He attended Stanford University for political science and worked at Mission Local as a reporter after graduating. He then spent time in advocacy as a partner for the strategic communications firm The Worker Agency. He rejoined Mission Local as an editor in 2023.

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