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Planned Vigil For Orlando Shooting Victims Shows Rift In Kansas City's LGBT Community

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Facebook - Candlelight Vigil For Orlando
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Plans for a vigil honoring the victims of the mass shooting in Orlando are causing tensions within Kansas City's LGBT community, over a lack of Latino and people of color included in the event.

Update, July 5,  5:07 p.m.: Organizers informed participants on Tuesday that the event had been canceled.

Plans for a vigil honoring victims of the mass shooting in Orlando are causing tension between event organizers and some LGBT people of color over a lack of Latino representation at the vigil.

Randall Jenson is a youth organizer and anti-violence advocate in Kansas City. He says he was initially approached to speak at the vigil, which is planned for Saturday, July 9, at the J.C. Nichols Fountain, but later told that space had filled up.

Jenson says the first vigil honoring the victims in Orlando, which took place the evening of June 12, was missing voices of color.

“There was not a conversation about race at all, there was not a mention of Latino, Latina, Latinx. What we saw was that the conversation was about the fear and the idea that LGBT people were under attack,” Jenson says. ('Latinx' is a gender-neutral alternative to the male 'Latino' and female 'Latina'; it refers to anyone who comes from a Latin American country).

As more information surfaced about the Orlando shooting victims, who were mostly of Latin descent, Jenson hoped that this second vigil, organized in part by Felicia Kyle, the Director of Operation at LikeMe Lighthouse KC, would consider more voices of color.

He says when another organizer sent him the list of speakers, he was disappointed to see mostly white people on the roster.

“It wasn’t surprising, it was unfortunately very much indicative of where we’re at Kansas City with our LGBT community,” Jenson says.

He says after three LGBT people of color were killed in Kansas City last year, advocates should be having conversations that go beyond Orlando.

“We can’t be talking about healing in Orlando if we’re not talking about healing in Kansas City, if we’re not talking about the violence that has impacted black and brown, Latinx and black communities here in Kansas City,” he says.

Organizers of next week’s vigil have said on Facebook that they are including LGBT people of color in their event.

A thread on Jenson’s Facebook page has generated a passionate and sometimes heated conversation about the planning of the event as well as the experiences of Latinx and people of color in Kansas City.

Diane Burkholder, co-founder of One Struggle KC and The DB Approach consulting firm, urged organizers to center the event on Latinx and black voices, as those were the victims most affected in the shooting. She tells KCUR she was assured that a variety of individuals would be represented. 

She says she also commented on Missy B's page, where an afterparty is scheduled to take place, but says her comment wasn't published or addressed.

Burkholder says the issue is not so much about inclusion of voices of color but about centering the event on the community most affected.

“Centering the experience is to go, particularly in this instance, to the Latinx community and say, ‘What do you need for us to support you? We are grieving, we are also hurting, but we understand that your experience is very unique and particular and specific. What can we do to support that?'" Burkholder says. 

She says in the wake of Orlando, more people are becoming aware of the divides that exist within the LGBT community.

"We often think ... that oppressed communities often understand other types of oppression," Burkholder says.

The reality, she says, is that systematic oppression plays out in the LGBT community, just as in any other.

Burkholder hopes that in this instance people can learn a lesson: to apologize and own a mistake, rather than remain silent. 

"When we walk away from an issue we further silence and tell people that their experiences are not valid and that their pain, in fact, is not real," Burkholder says. 

Jenson says a group of people are planning separate memorial in response, which they say will honor the victims of Orlando and those in Kansas City, in a more representative way.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story stated the event was organized by LikeMe Lighthouse. That organization did create a Facebook event for the vigil.

Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and producer for KCUR. Connect with her on Twitter @larodrig.

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