Anthony: Where in Philly did you grow up?
Angel: I grew up all over the place. Originally I grew up in
the Fairmount section. But then around 9 years old, my mom moved to the Northeast.
So we lived near the Franklin mills mall for a while. Then I lived in Orlando for
three years between ‘04 and ‘07. Then in ‘07 I moved back to Philadelphia on my
own because I kinda like hated it here. Things just weren’t working out for me.
When I moved back to Philly, that is when I felt like I became an adult. I was
on my own. I was doing my own thing. I finally got my own place. I felt
independent. Philly is where I actually came “out”. Because for a while I was
hiding who I was. I was ashamed, I was embarrassed. I didn’t want to be the way
I am. Especially growing up in a church setting. So for a while I hated myself.
I was just very depressed. But finally I decided to start accepting myself,
when I finally realized that I am not going to change…that’s when I became my own
person. That’s how I became who I am today. Yes, Philadelphia is home but it
also has a special place in my heart because the community accepted me for who I
am. I never felt that kind of acceptance before. So, yes Philadelphia isn’t
perfect. There are issues within the community but at the same time, I am
grateful for the people whom I met and the experiences that I had there because
it’s molded me into what I have become today. So hopefully I am not terrible
Anthony: How do you like here in Orlando the second time around?
Angel: Second time around, not so bad. I came to this city feeling
very optimistic about the possibilities. I have a new attitude about what to
expect when coming to Orlando. Because my first experience in Orlando wasn’t great,
which is why I left. But I am a different person than I was in 2007. When I
lived here I wasn’t “out”. I worked. I went home. I would play videos games and
that was pretty much my life. So coming here this time around, I started off by
making friends. There was one friend who I stayed in communication with, Jeff,
who was with me that night at Pulse. So I reached out to him and we kinda
picked up where things left off. So he showed me around downtown, took me to
some clubs and introduced me to some of his friends. I was determined to enjoy the
experience of living in Orlando this time around. I like Orlando. Even with
everything that has happened. I like Orlando.
Anthony: I recently had a working lunch with someone from
Melbourne, Australia and they showed me pictures of a massive vigil they had
for Pulse. There were like 200,000 people there. How does that feel to get that
kind of support from the world?
Angel: It’s amazing. On Facebook and Instagram, I have received
messages from people from all over. People from Spain, Dubai, Australia, New
Zealand, so it’s just incredible the amount of support that I have seen from
around the world. Of course, within the United States, I have received messages
from people from everywhere; the Midwest, the west coast, from home. You know,
it’s been amazing. I’m hoping that with all the attention this event has
caused, hopefully people will start to think about their actions, think about
what is it that they say against the community, think about how they treat
people within our community. Now people understand that we more visual now, people
are more aware but it doesn’t change he fact that there are people who hate us
for who we are and like that night, want to attack us for being who we are. So I
am hopeful that with all the support out there will result in positive change.
Anthony: Do you regret moving to Orlando?
Angel: Believe it or not, no. Even after what happened, I don’t
regret moving to Orlando. I am not one of those to say “Everything happens for
a reason.” Because I don’t think everything happens for a reason. I do believe
that some things happen for a reason. What happened at Pulse, I don’t necessarily
think there was any good reason for that to happen, I really don’t. But the
fact is that it did happen and as result, I am different person today than who I
was on June 11th. So I have to try to make the best of my life going
Angel Santiago Jr., Orlando
Interviewed by: Anthony Leon
Photographed by: Louie A. Ortiz-Fonseca