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In Orlando, Community Members Unite to Heal and Grow

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Contigo quilt

Last summer, Marco Antonio Quiroga left his role as Director of Public Policy at the True Colors Fund to to move back to his hometown of Orlando. After the shooting at Pulse nightclub last June that killed and injured over 100 people, Marco knew he had to recommit himself to the on-the-ground needs of Orlando’s LGBTQ and Latinx communities.

We checked in on Marco to see what he’s been up to since then.

It’s been about six months since you left your position as Director of Public Policy at the True Colors Fund. Give us a snapshot of your life over these past six months.

My family immigrated to the US when I was 2 and we landed in Orlando. I grew up there and it was the place where I found myself as a proud LGBTQ person of color empowered by my identity and experience as an undocumented youth.

Marco Antonio QuirogaLike many individuals across the country following the Pulse shooting, I was deeply impacted by this unexpected and fundamentally life-altering tragedy. I knew I had to immediately migrate back home to support the community that taught me to be my full authentic self and built me into the leader I am today. I had to follow my heart, give back, and commit myself to supporting them on their long journey of healing and empowerment. I dedicated myself to guiding the community as it went through its transformation in the aftermath of the tragedy and focused support on the most marginalized and oppressed in Orlando – LGBTQ and Latinx individuals, immigrants, and people of color – who were predominantly and distinctively impacted by the tragedy and who I regard as my family. Through our collective efforts, the Contigo Fund was born and it is our unwavering commitment to create a sanctuary where all people are welcomed and affirmed.

Can you go into detail about the work the Contigo Fund does?

Contigo Fund’s mission is to honor those that were lost at Pulse – nearly all of which were young, LGBTQ, and Latinx – by making sure their identities, lived experiences, families, and communities are never forgotten. “Contigo” means “With you” in Spanish and we’ve been named as such for that exact reason.

The Contigo Fund is a 501(c)3 nonprofit philanthropic organization that offers financial support to Orlando organizations working to heal, educate and empower Pulse-affected communities – LGBTQ and Latinx individuals, immigrants, and people of color – as well as all those working to defeat bigotry in all its forms.

Our grantmaking efforts are community-driven through a diverse Grant Committee of 12 remarkable local leaders in Orlando that were directly and deeply impacted by the tragedy, including representatives of the LGBTQ and Latinx, transgender, Black, immigrant, and rural communities. We are supporting the resilience of those living at the intersection of theses marginalized identities and building on their power.

Contigo fund groupWhat are some victories you’ve had at the Contigo Fund?

Before Contigo Fund was formed, we started with asking folks impacted by the tragedy three questions: (1) what conditions were like prior to the shooting, (2) what have been the gaps in the response efforts, and (3) what are your dreams and aspirations for the future of your community. We often heard that undocumented queer youth were suffering in isolation because they didn’t feel comfortable owning their identity and they felt cut off from resources. We also heard that LGBTQ Latinx individuals have never seen a person with their identity or lived experiences in a place of leadership and power.

Today, we are supporting the building of community space and places of healing, leadership opportunities, and movements for Orlando’s most marginalized and oppressed that did not exist prior to the Pulse tragedy. Some of our grantees include organizations providing LGBTQ and linguistically competent mental health counseling to Pulse survivors and their families and grassroots LGBTQ Latinx youth-led organizations that emerged from the tragedy to create community and leadership development for those most affected by the tragedy. We support our grantees’ vision with resources, training, and opportunities to build community with each other.

What main challenge(s) do you face?

It’s obvious that there is still so much more healing and work left to be done, particularly for people that mirror those from the Pulse tragedy and their families – LGBTQ and Latinx individuals, immigrants, and communities of color – who are living with anxiety and insecurity as they witness hate speech and violence rooted in homophobia and racism increasingly normalizing across our country. However, the community that is coming together in support of one another here in the South is growing, learning, activating and resisting against this bias more and more each and every day with a desire to see change. Let’s do this together.

What can people do to get involved?

Support for this work continues to be critical. On the horizon, we are focusing on building spaces of empowerment for Latinx and Black transgender women, support for the Puerto Rican community migrating to Orlando because of the economic crisis on the island, and protections for undocumented immigrants that reside in the rural areas surrounding Orlando and so much more. The journey of healing and empowerment for our community will be a long one and we need supporters of this work that are committed to stand with us in the long-term. Check out our website at www.ContigoFund.org and do not hesitate to reach out via email at [email protected].

Contigo means “With you.” We ask that you join with us in spreading the word on Marco’s important work.

Follow Nick Seip:

Program & Communications Officer

When he’s not working at the True Colors Fund, you can find Nick somewhere in Brooklyn, listening to, making, or talking about music.