A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture

What isn’t Heard: Dyslogistic Silence and Silencing at Candlelight Vigils for the Orlando Massacre --- A Response by J. Paul Padilla

J. Paul Padilla, University of Arizona

(Published June 3, 2019

On the evening of Monday, June 13, 2016, my son Ricardo and I attended a candlelight vigil held in Downtown Bloomington, Illinois to mourn the victims of the Orlando Massacre and to show solidarity with the LGBTQ community. The day before, forty-nine people were killed and fifty-three wounded—the majority, LGBTQ Latinas and Latinos—when Muslim gunman Omar Mateen opened fire inside of Pulse, a LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, on Latin Night during the early morning hours. In the wake of the news of the Orlando Massacre, I reached out in my capacity as then Chair of Conexiones Latinas de McLean County, a non-profit organization that serves the Latino community and other communities, to organize a community solidarity event. I later learned that the Prairie Pride Coalition, a non-profit organization that serves the LGTBQ community in McLean County, had already organized a candlelight vigil.

That Monday evening, women, men, and children marched with candles from The Bistro restaurant in Downtown Bloomington to Withers Park to join in solidarity with the Orlando Vigil, sharing silence imbued with hurt, anger, grief, and strength. The Pantagraph, the local newspaper, and WGLT, the National Public Radio affiliate at Illinois State University, captured in photographs the eulogistic acts and patterns of silence of the predominantly White gatherers. But in the process, these photographs erased something else: even though Ricardo and I stood at the center of the gathering with community leaders, we were erased through the creative framing by the photographer.

Our erasure from the photographs of the candlelight vigil mirrored the erasure that we experienced as allies. Despite our sadness and empathy, we were met by many gatherers with a particular silence, one that, through body language, facial expression, and physical distancing, intimated intrusion. Only two individuals approached us throughout the two-hour Orlando Vigil—both Latinos with one being Margot Mendez, a member of the Prairie Pride Coalition. And only Margot Mendez acknowledged, when reading of the names of the victims alongside the Spanish phrase “Vaya Con Dios,” that the victims were queer and Latino. The and seemed to be not only a problem for me, but also a problem for Ricardo. I was accustomed to being racialized as Muslim by the conservative and predominantly White community in Bloomington-Normal; racialization occurred covertly—body language, facial expressions, pregnant silence, etc.—and overtly—exclusion, hostility, racial bias, racial stereotypes, racial slurs, etc. But whereas I was constantly racialized, Ricardo, as a light-skinned Latino, had not been until the Orlando Vigil. Being Other indicated a larger problem across the nation: by centering Whiteness, as Ramón Rivera-Servera argued in his Atlantic article “After Orlando: The Singular Experience of the Queer Latin Nightclub,” the US mainstream LGBTQ community co-opted and whitewashed the narrative. In the narrative of the Orlando Vigil, the gunman came to symbolize a common enemy in the Muslim, the Latino and the Latina came to be erased from victimization of the LGBTQ community, and silence came to be the voice of the LGBTQ community, all through an agency granted by Whiteness.

For me, to write on behalf of myself and my son Ricardo is difficult, for this refusal to remain silent about the candlelight vigil, this attempt to address the dyslogistic silence, may be characterized by some as divisive. But the alternative—more years of silence to maintain decorum, complicity with a conscious or unconscious bias, continued alienation of people like me and my son—promotes civil unrest, which is far worse for all. Plus, our experience may be indicative of a larger issue that merits dialogue and further exploration, an issue with the centering of Whiteness in the LGTBQ community. People who self-identify as Latino LGBTQ and Muslim LGBTQ identified the silencing and displacement of their identities, experiences, and narratives through the dominant identities, experiences, and narratives centered on Whiteness in the LGBTQ community. Such silencing and displacement extend to the narratives, spaces, and experiences of mourning the victims of the Orlando Massacre.

In this essay, I examine the dyslogistic silence and silencing that followed the visual recognition and alienation of me and my son Ricardo, as well as the dyslogistic silence and silencing of queer Latinos and queer Muslims at vigils for the Orlando Massacre. My examination comprises two sections.  In the first section, I analyze the dyslogistic silence that my son Ricardo and I experienced at the Orlando Vigil and the question of racialization and racism in this dyslogistic silence through Kenneth Burke’s concepts of the dramatistic pentad, tonalities, and perspective by incongruity.  Building on the analysis of dyslogistic silence in the first section, I explore the centering of Whiteness in the LGBTQ community in vigils for the Orlando Massacre through Burke’s concepts of identification, consubstantiation, and scapegoating as well as through Gloria Anzaldúa’s conceptions of language and Whiteness.  This exploration focuses on the experiences of dyslogistic silence and other forms of alienation faced by Latinos and Muslims who self-identify as LGBTQ.  The second section is divided into two sub-sections.  The first sub-section provides an  overview of the ontological and epistemological nature of language and rhetoric through the work of Burke as well as Anzaldúa and the concept of Whiteness through the work of Anzaldúa as well as George Lipsitz.  The second sub-section delves into three sites of analysis through Burke’s theories of the rhetoric of the negative and the scapegoat.

Analysis of the Dyslogistic Silence at the Orlando Vigil.

Eulogistic silence—that is, empathetic silence of mourning, loss, and identification in union—is an essential element of a candlelight vigil. From what my son Ricardo and I observed, eulogistic silence followed the visual recognition and welcoming of people at the Orlando Vigil. This eulogistic silence establishes the point of reference for our contrasting experience, dyslogistic silence—that is, a silence of disapproval and intrusion marked by apathy or antipathy.  To examine this dyslogistic silence in contrast with the eulogistic silence, I employ Kenneth Burke’s definition of rhetoric as well as his concepts of the dramatistic pentad, tonalities, and perspective by incongruity.  

For Burke, human communication is symbolic—that is, languages are comprised of symbols that represent a person, thing, idea, action, feeling (Smith 340). Rhetoric is “rooted in an essential function of language itself, a function that is wholly realistic, and is continually born anew; the use of language a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols” (Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives 43). Key to persuasion in Burke’s conception of rhetoric is symbolic inducement through “identification” and, in this, the motivation for identification within the hierarchy of society (Smith 340). Burke argues that the motivations for identification stem from “the psychoanalytic continuum running from anaclitic to narcissistic” (340). The persuasive use of language seeks to create symbolic identification between the writer and the audience within the realm of the realistic and, for there to be symbolic identification, the consubstantiation, that is, a shared substance “established between being of unequal status,” needed to exist within the realm of the idealistic (Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives 46).  

Burke identified that a critic could impute positive or negative motives of the actor on a subject through tonalities, the difference between eulogistic and dyslogistic uses of language (Smith 343). To analyze motives in rhetoric, Burke promotes a dramatist paradigm called the dramatistic pentad. The following are the five principles of the Pentad: act; agent (actor); agency by which an action is achieved; scene; and, purpose of an act (352). A sixth principle was added through Burke’s book entitled A Grammar of Motives (354), attitude, which “concerns the manner in which an act occurs or can concern the attitude of the agent during the act” (354). An analysis of the ratios of the five main pentad principles helps to determine the controlling principle in the pentad and to explain the motivation behind symbolic inducement (353-354).

Burke’s concept of perspective by incongruity can be used to inform the five main pentad principles. Perspective by incongruity means taking a word, phrase, or act “from its customary category or setting and applying it to a different category or setting” in order to examine “the relationships between objects that have been ignored because of an emphasis on the rational, the logical, or the sensible” (343). These relationships can be found by looking for “clues, clusters, and cues” (343). Burke analogized perspective by incongruity to the stereopticon camera that captures depth using two angles of focus that the conventional camera, with one angle of focus, as perspective by incongruity allows for “seeing two angles at once” (Attitudes towards History 269-270).    

The characterization of an agent’s scene, according to Burke, is subject to “a great variety of circumference” (A Grammar of Motives 84) based on human freedom and human necessity and this circumference contracts and expands with linguistic placement (84). For us who participated in the Orlando Vigil that June, the circumference of our scene was characterized through the necessity identified by, and freedom of, the Prairie Pride Coalition to organize and hold an event for the local community and to linguistically and discursively place the event as a candlelight vigil. This circumference established parameters of agency, act, and purpose for gatherers as actors. Scene, then, is a controlling principle of the dramatistic pentad in this analysis of motives, as the Orlando Vigil scene allowed for certain liberties and precluded or deterred others given the decorum.

Given the controlling principle of scene and the decorum of the Orlando Vigil, Burke’s perspective by incongruity provides a conceptual means to juxtapose the eulogistic act and patterns of silence typical to the scene and purpose of a candlelight vigil against the dyslogistic act and patterns of silence that, for some, might be difficult to conceive. Speeches to the general audience and conversations between gatherers do occur during a candlelight vigil, but the eulogistic acts and patterns of shared silence of individual gatherers define the collective symbolism of unity, strength, and support that is part of a candlelight vigil’s primary purpose. But the emphasis on the act and patterns of silence as eulogistic, given the purpose and the scene of the Orlando Vigil, leads other relationships between objects to be ignored. One ignored—better said, one silenced—relationship created the act and pattern of dyslogistic silence that Ricardo and I experienced.

The “objects” in relation originate from ideological conceptualizations among people that define a power dynamic between a subject, which has agency and privilege to act, and an object, upon which the subject projects values and devalues its agencies. Gatherers at the Orlando Vigil exercised the privileges of agency and power granted through the scene itself and beyond the scene through Whiteness. Whiteness, by its nature, values and devalues people based on assimilation to the dominant White norm and projects onto the minority Other. Other means more than being non-White actors; Other means actors who are people of color and who are projected upon as threats to the identity and safety of the LGBTQ community. In the Bloomington-Normal community, I have been confronted with violent, homophobic, and misogynistic stereotypes, often attributed to both Muslim and Latino males, including direct confrontation, that reflected how I was made into Other in the minds of some. My agency and my son’s agency were devalued as Other, which I demonstrate in the analysis of motives that follows. I identify agency as a controlling principle of purpose and act that redefines the circumference of the Orlando Vigil scene itself. 

With the agency-purpose ratio, gatherers at a candlelight vigil generally exercise strategies to foster the sentiment of safety and intimacy for others to allow themselves and others to express emotion consistent with the scene. The gatherers have a purpose through agency to serve the larger purpose of the candlelight vigil by which their agency is granted in the scene. From what Ricardo and I witnessed, several strategies that some gatherers at the Orlando Vigil used among themselves included the following: welcoming through eye contact and facial expression; standing in close proximity; hugging; half-embrace; hand on shoulder; holding hands; crying without the touch of others; crying with the touch of others; movement from one small group to another; approaching people; concerted effort to approach children to comfort them; introductions; listening. The purpose of the gatherers created this range of strategies, which, for Ricardo and I, was notable because the strategies used by some of the gatherers with us were contradictory to the strategies used with others. Those strategies directed towards us included: glaring; eye contact with facial expressions of hostility and anger; distance from us, which included distance from us where we were located immediately left of the center stage; no attempts at contact; no attempts to comfort Ricardo; no discussions. Despite our efforts to ameliorate the situation during the two-hour Orlando Vigil—we attempted different strategies to reach out to other gatherers—only two strangers, a Latina and a Latino, spoke to us and reciprocated acts of unity and support, including hugs, conversation, planning more support for the Latino LGBTQ members of the community, and shared silence in prayer or reflection. I underscore the dialogue and actions of these two Latinos with us because it demonstrates the potential for strangers to have interacted with us. 

Identifying the race and culture of these two individuals as Latinos is integral to the agency-purpose ratio of motives because of the significance of both identification and alienation to agency and purpose in the Orlando Vigil. Setting our race and culture aside, we shared the following in common with the majority of gatherers: supporters of mourners; allies of the LGBTQ; gatherers at the event; members of the Bloomington-Normal community; attire for a humid, hot summer evening; and given the demographics of the Bloomington-Normal community, college-educated, employed, and middle- to middle-upper class; male, like about half of the people gathered. The visible difference is my skin color, hair color, and physiognomy and Ricardo’s physiognomy and hair color, as it related to our perceived and actual race and culture.  Similarities outnumber differences, but the difference of race and culture reflects a hierarchy of power that underlies all five principles of the dramatistic pentad, notably here, agency as the controlling principle. Our perceived and actual race and culture are significant. 

Applying the agency-act ratio, the difference between the eulogistic silence and the dyslogistic silence reflects the difference between the acts that are appropriate to gatherers and the choice between the acts that the gatherers are capable of performing when implicit bias against Muslims and Latinos becomes a variable in the Orlando Vigil scene. Where Ricardo and I would have been engaged by gatherers through eulogistic silence, our agency would be affirmed and, with an affirmed agency, our acts would have come to contribute in more ways to the scene and purpose of the candlelight vigil. Where Ricardo and I were alienated by some gatherers and distanced by the vast majority of gatherers, our agency was diminished through dyslogistic silence to limit our acts and our presence as actors. This limited our contribution to the purpose of the scene and the scene itself because of our perceived or actual race and culture. And, because of our perceived or actual race and culture, the dyslogistic silence towards us was justified and appropriate in the minds of some of the gatherers even though we, as father and son, represent family. Other acts were within the realm of possibility, like the acts of insults, threats, and overt alienation directed by mourners to Latinos and Muslims who self-identify as LGBTQ, which I explore in the next section of this paper.

An Exploration of the Centering of Whiteness in Vigils for the Orlando Massacre.

The experience of dyslogistic silence that my son Ricardo and I had at the Orlando Vigil signifies a problem with which we are confronted time and again. My attempts to express our narrative as allies and people of color ostracized from the Orlando Vigil have been met, for the most part, with skepticism, trivialization, emotional detachment, and distancing—all forms of silencing. I am reminded of bell hooks’ words, “(l)anguage is also a place of struggle” because I experience these forms of silence when my voice is “the radical voice that speaks about domination” and when I am “speaking to those who dominate” whether they choose to recognize the privileging of Whiteness or not (Choosing the Margin 236). hooks identifies marginality as “the central location for the production of a counter-hegemonic discourse that is not just found in words but in habits of being and the way one lives”—a location that offers an individual through lived experience “the possibility of radical perspective from which to see and create, to imagine alternatives, new worlds” (239). I have discovered other narratives similar to, yet different from, the narrative of racial marginalization that Ricardo and I share; these narratives are of Latinos and Muslims who, unlike Ricardo and I, self-identify as LGBTQ, but, like Ricardo and I, have too been ostracized from the vigils dedicated to the Orlando Massacre.

These narratives reflect a pervasive problem with respect to the subject of narrative, experience, and space for people of color mourning the victims of the Orlando Massacre and, in a broader context, grappling with the troubling history of homophobic violence against the LGBTQ community in the United States. Queer Latinos and queer Muslims have raised concerns about erasure, silencing, and scapegoating through the centering of Whiteness in the LGBTQ community. In the paragraphs that follow, I summarize three news articles about such concerns, and I examine the concerns through Kenneth Burke’s theories of the rhetoric of the negative and the scapegoat. But given the focus of concerns of erasure, silencing, and scapegoating, let me first turn to Gloria Anzaldúa and preface this analysis with an overview of the ontological and epistemological nature of language and rhetoric as well as the concept of Whiteness.

A.   Overview of the Ontological and Epistemological Nature of Language and Rhetoric and of the Concept of Whiteness. 

The use of language and rhetoric creates and shapes the reality of the narratives, spaces, and experiences of groups of people engaged in the mourning of the victims of the Orlando Massacre and, in a larger context, the relationship of groups of people within the LGBTQ community. Queer Chicana feminist Gloria Anzaldúa argues that language is “a representational system, a symbology system” (Lunsford 16), that is epistemological and ontological in nature. Language, Anzaldúa argues, can create a reality (16) through mark making, which includes, but is not limited to, the act of writing (18), and, in creating a reality, mark making often “displaces the reality, the experience” (16). Anzaldúa’s conception of language parallels Burke’s conception of language as an ontological and epistemological system of symbols through which people operate and manage society. As addressed in the first section and important to revisit for this section, rhetoric is “the use of language a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols” (A Rhetoric of Motives 43).  The persuasiveness of rhetoric depends on the identification established between the writer and an audience, and for identification to occur, a shared substance “established between beings of unequal status”—consubstantiation—needs to exist within the realm of the idealistic (Burke 46). Rhetoric, then, establishes the common, symbolic sense of consubstantiality through identification (46). Burke believes that consubstantiality is necessary to any way of life; “a way of life is an acting together; and in acting together, men have common sensations, concepts, images, ideas, and attitudes that make them consubstantial” (21).

For those who identify with rhetoric that promotes the centering of Whiteness in the LGBTQ community, Whiteness becomes consubstantial. The consubstantiality of Whiteness in the United States can be explained both through sociologist George Lipsitz’s definition of Whiteness and Anzaldúa’s conception of “White” as the dominant frame of reference in the United States. Whiteness, according to Lipsitz, is an organizing principle in social and cultural relations that is omnipresent, yet difficult to perceive, in United States culture without “presence of mind” (1). Presence of mind is a concept from Walter Benjamin that means a precise awareness of the present moment to identify, analyze, and oppose the destructive consequences of Whiteness (Lipsitz 1). The destructive consequences of Whiteness come from the existence of “a structured advantage” that “produces unfair gains and unjust rewards for all whites, although not uniformly and equally” and “works in concert with—and flows from—many other forms of inequality and injustice” (106). Anzaldúa argues that “White” functions as the frame of reference for the dominant culture in the United States with respect to meaningful mark making (Lunsford 6). Mark making includes writing, as mentioned earlier, but extends to include speech, body language, interpretative body movement, spaces, physical structures, the people who design structures—as Anzaldúa put it, “the oral, the dance, the choreography, the performing art, the architects” (6). Notably, mark making is made “in relationship to the fact that [White people] occupy the space” (6). To a great extent, Anzaldúa’s concept of a frame of reference echoes Burke’s conception of terministic screens on an individual level; for Burke, a terministic screen is the rhetorical definition of reality that reflects, and is focused on, individual interest—idiosyncratic or collective interest taken by the individual—and that operates as filters that are projections of ourselves and shape our perspectives of and actions in the world (Smith 361). As a terministic screen, Whiteness functions as the dominant frame of reference for  life in the United States, creating dominant tropes related to common sensations, concepts, images, ideas, and attitudes that are shared, to different degrees and in different ways, by both those who identify with, and those who resist, Whiteness and White as the dominant frame of reference.

B.    Three Sites of Analysis Explored through Burke’s Theories of the Rhetoric of the Negative and the Scapegoat. 

In its occupation of space, its oppression through structural advantage, its omnipresence in society, Whiteness creates, reinforces, and perpetuates a reality defined by an overarching binary of a dominant Self and an oppressed Other. The consubstantiation of Whiteness allows the construction and use of rhetoric to displace the realities of Latinos and Muslims in the United States, and to create a reality of Latinos and Muslims as Other, a reality dominated by constructed collective narratives that reinforce and perpetuate the dominance of Whiteness. These narratives of Latinos and Muslims as Other function to appropriate, erase, and silence their experiences, to define and limit individual and shared spaces, and to invalidate their narratives. These narratives of Latinos and Muslims as Other involve the rhetoric of the negative. According to Burke, the rhetoric of the negative is used to develop and define the elements of the victimized, to unite an audience, and to redeem an audience; “(t)he negative derives the rules and morals that guide us” (Smith 355).

With respect to Latinos, a dominant narrative of Whiteness is present in the narrative around the mourning of the Orlando Massacre by the LGBTQ community--a narrative of a unified race-less and culture-less LGBTQ community victimized through, and united against, the violence of homophobic cultures. The race-less and culture-less aspects are key, as Whiteness, though visible and present, is often deemed the normative, thus, invisible yet omnipresent. This dominant narrative and Whiteness in this narrative are threatened by the narratives, experience, and sharing of space by queer Latinas and Latinos, as the narratives and experience of both Paulina Helms-Hernandez and Tiffany Meleccio demonstrate in news articles from The Guardian and The Advocate.

In The Guardian article entitled “LGBT People of Color Refuse to be Erased after Orlando: ‘We Have to Elbow In,’” journalist Steven W. Thrasher reports on the dismissiveness of the LGBTQ community towards the experiences, narratives, and shared spaces of LGBTQ people of color related to mourning the victims of the Orlando Massacre. Thrasher attributes this dismissiveness to the larger, ongoing struggle with the centering of Whiteness in the LGBTQ community. Thrasher interviewed Paulina Helm-Hernandez, a queer Latina and co-director of Southerners on New Ground, an Atlanta-based LGBTQ organization run for and by queers of color. Helm-Hernandez, like other Latina and Latino colleagues, tried to be a part of a coalition community programs that organize vigils but found that the speaker lists and other elements of vigils not only were established without their participation, but also excluded Latinos and people of color from participation in any vigil.  Helm-Hernandez attributes this exclusion to the “rush to decentralize marginalized people at traumatic moments. ” Helm-Hernandez further claims that “even when it’s our community under attack, our community is not allowed to set the tone, and I hate to say it, white people just rush in.” Helm-Hernandez argues that she and other people of color had to voice their narrative, break the silencing, and to secure a space to mourn, which she extends to the experience of people of color in the LGBTQ community generally. “We have to elbow in, and maybe they’ll give us one minute,” Helm-Hernandez states, “—or we have to create our own autonomous people of color spaces, which we have always done.” 

Thrasher’s article about Helm-Hernandez’s experience illustrates the presence of Whiteness in the overarching narratives of the Orlando Massacre. The dominance of Whiteness appears in different types of mark making. As made evident in this article, individual voices, voices of organizations, and media reporting shape the dominant narratives of the Orlando Massacre to the exclusion of Latinas and Latinos. Furthering those narratives, individuals and organizations defined, shaped, and hosted spaces of mourning through vigils, which defined the agency and acts of the actors in that space. In such scenes, Latinas and Latinos, along with other people of color, face the dyslogistic silence of exclusion and alienation while being silenced in, and marginalized from, intellectual and physical spaces of vigils. For Latinas and Latinos, their agency to act in these spaces is often curtailed, so much so that their presence as actors is questioned and the experiences of their reality are rejected and erased. Latinas and Latinos, along with other people of color, are left to confront a troubling reality about the racial parameters of unity in vigils for the Orlando Massacre (and in the LGBTQ Community) that Helm-Hernandez notes: accept the little space of recognition, if any, that Whiteness allowed or leave and create a separate space for people of color.

In The Advocate article entitled “The Time Two White Gay Men Heckled a Latina at a Pulse Vigil,” journalist Orie Givens also reports on the silencing of queer people of color. Specifically, Givens discusses allegations of divisiveness in the acknowledgement of the race of the majority of the Orlando Massacre victims at a vigil held at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Givens reports that Tiffany Meleccio, a queer Latina of Puerto Rican and Guatemalan descent and a graduating University of Missouri-Columbia Senior, volunteered to read the names of the victims to ensure that the Latino names were pronounced correctly. Meleccio also volunteered to speak as one of the grievers to “raise the voice of LGBT Latino people who, because of feeling the attack on both of their communities, are experiencing the grief differently.” Despite her expressed concerns about racism based on past experiences of racist heckling by White men, Meleccio addressed the predominantly White audience about the victims being Latino and being “specifically her culture.” According to Givens, Carl Brizendine and his husband Daniel claimed that raising the issue of the race of the victims was being divisive and left in protest. Carl yelled comments in response to Meleccio during her talk and both Carl and Daniel shared their concerns with Fox News. Carl stated, “We’re all hurt. But I’m tired of our community, and I’m not talking about just the LGBTQ community here, but also our community in Columbia, our community in Mizzou . . . everything has to be divided into color.” Daniel stated, “I got someone speaking onstage that tried to make it all about her culture, and that’s a common thing now.”  But the majority of the victims were Meleccio’s culture and, when she expressed her grief, Meleccio experienced silencing. Meleccio stated, “At the end of the day I'm a brown woman that went up there and said it . . . and I got booed, and I got called a lot of mean names. And people agreed . . . or they didn't understand what I was trying to say.”

Negotiations of shared space and self-segregation are both types of resistance by the marginalized as Helm-Hernandez’s experience demonstrates. But Meleccio’s actions, addressing the erasure of Latinas and Latinos and the privilege of Whiteness directly, represent another type of resistance. Meleccio’s experience illustrates the clear and direct presence of Whiteness to protect the dominant narrative through another narrative of victimization, the victimization of Whites through perceived racial division and divisiveness. This narrative of victimization enacted in Carl’s rhetoric displaced the reality of Meleccio as a queer Latina as well as the reality of queer Latinas and Latinos like Meleccio to mourn victims of their own community who were both queer and Latina or Latino. This narrative of victimization also served to create rhetoric that displaced the reality of the massacre that occurred at Pulse nightclub on the night of June 12, 2016. That night, Pulse held Latin Night. That night, the majority of the 102 victims wounded or killed were Latinas and Latinos that self-identified as LGBTQ. In challenging the dominant narrative of Whiteness, Meleccio experienced silencing through outrage and insults that, for some like Carl and Daniel Brizendine, were justified because of their perceived race-less and culture-less LGBTQ community and because of their Whiteness. In the space of that vigil and through many news outlets, the dominant White frame of reference further leads to rhetoric that portrayed Meleccio’s actions as not a call for the recognition of racial and cultural plurality in LGBTQ identity by a mourning, conscientious, queer Latina, but instead as a form of racial divisiveness by a person of color intruding on a space of mourning for the race-less and culture-less LGBTQ community.

With respect to Muslims, two dominant narratives of Whiteness are present in the narrative of the mourning of the Orlando Massacre by the LGBTQ community. The first is the narrative of victimization of Americans and democracy by Islamic terrorist violence. The second is the narrative of victimization of the LGBTQ community that centers upon the threat of terrorist violence by homophobic people and the religion of Islam against White Americans’ freedom of gender and sexual minority identity. These two dominant narratives of Whiteness establish consubstantiation in victimization and in opposition to a scapegoat: Muslims. More accurately, the scapegoat is the essentialized conception of Muslims created through the rhetoric of the negative that becomes a reality while simultaneously displacing the reality that is the complex mosaic of Islamic culture and Islamic American culture.

For Burke, a vessel of unwanted evils or unwanted troubles—a scapegoat—can be created through the rhetoric of the negative for symbolic or actual sacrifice in order to solve problems or to purge guilt (Smith 355). Burke argues that the scapegoat mechanism reflects three principles: “(1) an original state of merger, in that the iniquities are shared by both the iniquitous and their chosen vessel; (2) principle of division, in that the elements shared in common are being ritualistically alienated; (3) a new principle of merger, this time in the unification of those whose purified identity is defined in dialectical opposition to the sacrificial offering” (A Grammar of Motives 406). Burke identifies power as being key to the scapegoat mechanism: “As an essence of motivation, the scapegoat is a concentration of power, hence may possess the ambiguities of power . . .” (407).

The scapegoating in an essentialized conception of Muslims embodies the power of Whiteness in the LGBTQ community. But, through the rhetoric of the negative and the scapegoat, a reality of some in the LGBTQ community is displaced: the reality of Muslims who self-identify as LGBTQ.  The tensions between this rhetoric of the negative and the scapegoat about Muslims and this reality of LGTBQ Muslims were highlighted by the Orlando Massacre, which was captured by journalist David A. Graham in The Atlantic article entitled “The Complicated Pain of America's Queer Muslims.”  Graham reports on the struggle with Islamophobia, erasure, and the centering of Whiteness experienced by individuals who identify as both queer and Muslim and how this struggle was more pronounced in the wake of the Orlando Massacre.

The Orlando Massacre made visible a disturbing aspect of the rhetoric of the negative and the scapegoat about LGTBQ Muslims: the conflation of Muslim identity with terrorism. Omar Mateen claims that he was acting in the name of Islam when he killed forty-nine people and wounded fifty-three people at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Mateen’s claim, especially in being Muslim himself, prompted further Islamophobia in the LGBTQ community. Graham reports how Mirna Haidar, a gender non-conforming social-justice activist in New York, had a disconcerting experience at a solidarity rally after the Orlando Massacre, which was held at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Haider states, “Someone started shouting, ‘Muslims are the problem.’ That’s really traumatizing for someone like me.” Islamophobia, along with racism, has led queer Muslims to feel as if they are “a sort of ghost contingent.” El-Farouk Khaki, an immigration lawyer and activist, states, “Many of us feel we’re not fully accepted in the Muslim community, and many of us who are also racialized as black and brown and other colors of the racial rainbow, we’re not fully accepted within the larger LGBTQ community, elements of which might not only just hold racialist views, but also anti-Muslim views and anti-Islam views.”  Graham reports how Omair Paul, a gay, New York-born Pakistani-American and the United Nations representative for Muslims for Progressive Values, identified frustration with LGBTQ communities because of Islamophobia and conflation of the religion of Islam with ISIS.

This conflation appears attributable, in some part, to the failure of the LGTBQ community to recognize intersectionality. Sahar Shafqat, a professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and a steering committee member at the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (MASGD), identified frustration with the failure of formal LGBTQ organizations to understand intersectionality wherever it occurs, specifically in the Islamic community. Shafqat attributed this failure of these organizations to the reduction of members to what she called “white gayness.” Shafqat stated, “That privilege comes with actually being able to fit all parts of your identity and the not having the world force you to choose. People don’t say, ‘How can you be gay? You’re white.’”

The narratives of Haidar, Khaki, Paul, and Shafqat all share in common a conscious struggle with the dominant narratives of Whiteness that impact their freedom of self-expression and self-identification. Identification among whites, through the consubstantiation of Whiteness, perpetuates the scapegoating of Muslims. This identification acknowledges intersectionality in the LGBTQ community as consubstantiation through the principle of merger but alienates an essentialized conception of Muslims as a homogenous, homophobic, and oppressive people. This essential conception exists through the principle of division, casting aside the reality that some Muslims self-identify with the LGBTQ community in order to establish unification. Unification surrounds a definition of the LGBTQ community through the dominant White frame of reference that is in dialectical opposition to this essentialized conception of Muslims. The scapegoat is thus essential to the two dominant narratives of victimization at work here. Scapegoating diminishes the threat that narratives of the reality of Muslims who self-identify as LGBTQ present. The dominant White frame of reference challenges the credibility of their reality and promotes the reality created through the rhetoric of the negative. Scapegoating also places the scapegoated in the position of addressing themselves through Otherness. Thus, as the narratives of Haidar, Khaki, Paul, and Shafqat demonstrate, Muslims who self-identify as LGBTQ must confront and address a reality created through Whiteness in the United States, even when they attempt to mourn with the LGTBQ community after a tragedy like the Orlando Massacre.


In this essay, I have examined the dyslogistic silence and silencing that my son Ricardo and I faced at the Orlando Vigil, along with queer Latinas and Latinos and of queer Muslims, in an effort towards two primary goals. The first goal is to address the omnipresence of Whiteness and homonormativity in the public spaces and public rhetoric related to Orlando Vigils and, in a larger context, the LGBTQ community. The second goal builds off of the first: a call to action that addresses the need to recognize the voices of Latinos, queer Latinos, and queer Muslims as not voices from the margins or voices of resistance, but voices, human, complex, whole, independent of Whiteness or homonormativity. But I find myself, as I write this essay and as I have attempted to address goals like these, confronted with frustrating ironies. These frustrating ironies are supposed to fester in private and, only there, within four walls, if there is an ear or a shoulder, can silence be broken. Yet, inspired by bell hooks, I will break my silence about two ironies important to the goals of this essay.

One irony: while I am reminded that the omnipresence of Whiteness and homonormativity is “common knowledge,” I am also reminded of a social contract of silence implied between those deemed people of color like me—a title that I adopt out of fatigue, but, like Hispanic, is one imposed on me—not to speak of or analyze common knowledge, even if the problem is that this knowledge isn’t actually common. This brings me to a second irony, one that bell hooks addressed poignantly in her essay “Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness” about silencing and pain. As people of color, as racial minorities, as Other, people like me have what I call qualified pain. By qualified pain, I mean that, as much as people of color are encouraged to speak of our experience, our experience becomes a problem if we speak of actual events and actions, like the experience that my son Ricardo and I had at the Orlando Vigil. I am a grown adult, accomplished, educated, too old for delusions, and yet, when I speak of my experience at the Vigil, I am faced with the qualifiers: “my perception” versus “reality”; “my interpretation” versus their intent; “my opinion” versus actual knowledge. The privilege of Whiteness is to be the gatekeeper, the authority, the author, the judge. While I could go into the complexities of race and racism in the United States from legal or sociological standpoints, I will point to one simple fact: the existence of racism isn’t dependent on an overt racist statement and an admission of guilt by a racist. This piece of common knowledge, ironically, becomes lost when I address real problems, like the ones Ricardo and I experienced at the Orlando Vigil.

And what about the element of pain? Well, I can say that it is rare that anyone doesn’t question my pain with qualifiers and even rarer that anyone says, “I’m sorry that this has happened to you.” In academia, I can think of only four people who have expressed this without speaking of me ever as Other, who have not attempted to silence me and my narrative. I am not alone. This silencing and displacement has not only been experienced by me but, as I have tried to show, it has also been identified in the narratives, spaces, and experiences comprising the mourning of victims of the Orlando Massacre by members of the LGBTQ community. bell hooks describes the annihilation and erasure of the voice of people of color through the silencing, appropriation, and re-writing of our narrative by the dominant group: 

We are re-written. We are “Other.” We are the margin. Who is speaking and to whom. Where do we locate ourselves and comrades.

Silenced. We fear those who speak about us, who do not speak to us and with us. We know what it is like to be silenced. We know the forces that silence us, because they never want us to speak, differ from the forces that say speak, tell me your story. Only do not speak in a voice of resistance. Only speak from that space in the margin that is a sign of deprivation, a wound, an unfulfilled longing. Only speak your pain. (241)  

I attended the Orlando Vigil with my son as a voice of resistance—we resisted the boundaries placed on us in a conservative community in order to show empathy to those affected by the Orlando Massacre, to be a symbol of welcoming and voice for other Latinos in the community who may fear, frankly, what we experienced, to stand against the violence of hatred. We resisted the narrative that Latinos couldn’t be queer—a narrative that I, in my capacity as then Chair of Conexiones Latinas de McLean County, had to fight against with members of my own board, all of whom refused to attend the Orlando Vigil. We resisted the notion that Muslims as a whole were responsible for the Orlando Massacre. We resisted so we could mourn. And that is sad.

We came to mourn the innocent lives lost to hateful violence and to show solidarity as human beings. And yet we have to resist in order to express our sorrow? And Paulina Helm-Hernandez and Tiffany Meleccio have to resist in order to express their sorrow, in order to control their own narrative about their own community directly affected in the Orlando Massacre, in order to speak without being silenced? And Mirna Haidar, El-Farouk Khaki, Omair Paul, and Sahra Shafqat have to resist in order to express their sorrow, in order to be accepted as queer and Muslim, in order to be free of stereotypes of Muslims and the hatred and alienation that comes with those stereotypes? This is the pain caused by Whiteness and homonormativity that cannot remain silent. To express ourselves, we must first address—and may be only able to address— the Other. And this pain persists.

I write this essay as an act of community and dialogue. I write with the vision that Ellen Cushman has for us in the field of rhetoric and composition, the rhetorician as an agent of social change (“The Rhetorician as an Agent of Social Change”). The public rhetoric of the Orlando Massacre and of the vigils to mourn and to show solidarity reveals a public rhetoric of Whiteness and homonormativity—a rhetoric that queer Latinos and queer Muslims identify through their voices as omnipresent yet invisible in the LGBTQ community. This rhetoric enters our classrooms and our departments, as do voices of people of color who are queer and straight. These voices can speak not only of experiences and identity as Other and as agents of social change, but also for one’s Self.