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Gay Buffalo pastor with Orlando ties speaks of heartbreak, concern among LGBTs

courtesy Pilgrim-St. Luke's & El Nuevo Camino United Church of Christ (pslucc.org)

For a Buffalo pastor and openly gay Latino man who relocated from Orlando three years ago, this past weekend's mass shooting at a gay club is especially personal.

Reverend Justo ?González is pastor of Pilgrim-St.Luke's and El Nuevo Camino United Church of Christ. He still has ties to Orlando, including continued participation with an organization known as the Gay Christian Network, a support group that reaches out to members of the broader LGBT community.


One of González's friends still living in Orlando lost two acquaintances in early Sunday morning's shooting rampage inside Pulse nightclub.

"(Sunday) morning I woke up the news and scrambled for my services, calling friends, texting friends, asking everyone to check in since I did not know what happened and who was impacted," Rev. González said in a studio interview Monday afternoon. "My friend ?José lost a friend of his and his partner."

Those victims, who were among 49 slain by Omar Mateen, who was later killed by police, are identified as 22-year-old Juan Ramon Guerrero (Rev. González had referred to him as "Jose" in the interview) and 32-year-old Christopher "Drew" Leinonen. 

Whether it was knowing someone directly touched by the tragedy or having just a couple degrees of separation from the incident, Rev. González said the tragedy is close to the entire gay community.

"This is even more pronounced to me because I do know the club. I do know the area," he said. "I do know friends who frequented that facility and how tragic it is. This happened on Latino night, so it's a direct attack on who I am as a gay Latino male, who my community is, as people of color and gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender people of color."

He struggled to contain his emotions at times.

"How sad and tragic it is that in America, you can't go have a drink or to go dance, without the fear of being killed. I mean, I thought this stuff had ended already. And yet, here we are, and it hits me one more time, I and members of my community are at peril simply because of who we are."

A vigil was held in downtown Buffalo Monday to rally support for the LBGT community. Leaders in the Muslim community have also quickly condemned the actions of Mateen, who reportedly phoned in his support of ISIS and referred to the Boston Marathon bombers during his attack. WBFO asked Rev. González if the tragedy in Orlando may unite factions that may not necessarily have come together in the past.

"Absolutely. The majority of us in religious work - whether it is the Jewish tradition, the Muslim tradition or the Christian tradition that I represent - are always working to unite people, the help people understand the beauty of who we are, the values that our faith traditions bring: human dignity, compassion, love... It's at the essence and the core of who we are, who we desire to be," he responded.

Upon the conclusion of his interview with WBFO, Rev. Justo González was asked if there were any additional points he wished to make. This was his response.

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