Many in Puerto Rico are searching for information about those who died. So Pedro Julio Serrano went to Orlando and is making it his goal to connect with families and help in any way he can to ensure they're heard, and that their loved ones are remembered.
Listening to the stories from families has been heartbreaking, he says, especially because he sees himself in the events, like many do.
“I saw those faces, I saw those names, I saw that they’re Puerto Rican. that they’re LGBT, that was me,” says an audibly shaken Serrano on the phone from Orlando. "I have had rifles pointed at me in Puerto Rico because of my activism.”
The world feels sadness and connection to this tragedy, and the LGBT community's pain is real across all racial and ethnic lines. For LGBT Puerto Ricans both on the continent and on the island, this tragedy hits home in immeasurable ways.
"The sorrow and the pain and the grief in Puerto Rico is unbearable, the LGBT community in Puerto Rico is frightened,” says the activist and founder of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s. "We will not live in fear."
As many have noted, Pulse reflected its community, filled with LGBT people and allies of all shades, but mostly Latinos of Puerto Rican origin. Orlando has a growing Puerto Rican community. And Serrano calls it “almost like another municipality of Puerto Rico.”
“He knew probably that it was Latino night," says Serrano, "and he knew that it was a gay club."
On the day of the shooting, it was the Puerto Rican Day parade in New York City, and it became a powerful display of Puerto Rican pride through the heart of Manhattan. For the first time, LGBT rights were a main focus. Serrano was among those who marched while dealing with news of an unfolding tragedy, with so many in their close-knit community lost.
In another sad irony, on the day Serrano received the honor of the Puerto Rican Pride award as part of the parade, and still overwhelmed from the news at Pulse, he says a car club in Queens denied him service because he is queer.
“The parade hired a car to transport the honorees, including me,” says Serrano. “and they did not want to associate their vehicle with these people."
An employee at Custom Shop in Queens, New York tells The Advocate that the owner wasn't in the office and wouldn't offer comment on the allegation. Left in the street, Serrano saw only one option.
"We just marched," he said. "We hear of this unspeakable tragedy, our hearts our heavy, we have this incident of homophobia and we have to march.”
On Sunday he marched, on Monday he got to Orlando to help his community in mourning, He says that the loss is so great that he “cannot express with words.” But he can say the community will thrive.
"We have, as LGBT Puerto Ricans, we have faced multiple discrimination, because of our national origin, because of our race, our sexual identity, so we face multiple discrimination on multiple levels every day," says Serrano.
“The pride of being who we are, and knowing who we are, and standing up for who we are, will take us through," says Serrano.