LGBTQ Latinx celebrates victories, worries about ongoing violence


On her wedding day Nicole Castillo knew she was making a mistake. She was 20 years old and both she and her husband knew that he was not heterosexual.

“But at the time, it didn’t seem like it was an option not to be married and go out,” he said. “I was concerned about harming my family and I stayed in that marriage for some time.”

Nicole Castillo, just with her partner Katherine Rocchio.Courtesy of Nicole Castillo.

It took Castillo, who is now 36 years old, until he was 20 years old to understand his sexual orientation. “I was from a generation with almost no LGBT visibility. I didn’t know any gay or queer women. ”

As Pride Month ends, LGBTQ people from Latinx report a mix of optimism and concern for their communities, on issues ranging from the Black Lives Matter movement to violence against transgender people.

LGBTQ people from Latinx say they see significant progress in the fight for equality, but emphasize that the fight for their rights is far from over.

Castillo, of Colorado, said he doesn’t care that the Pride celebrations in person have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “The Pride events are great, but they have become very mainstream, and sometimes it seems like important issues can be missed.”

In contrast, he noted, “Black Lives Matter’s protests are the most immediate, the crudest. That feels more authentic than what Pride has become. ”

From Stonewall to greater visibility

The Latino LGBTQ community has a rich heritage of activism. The first openly gay candidate for public office in the United States was José Julio Sarria, who ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1961. In New York, one of the people credited with starting the Stonewall riots in 1969, which helped inspire the beginning of the LGBT rights movement – was Sylvia Rivera, a transgender Puerto Rican woman.

In Los Angeles, Robbie Rodriguez, 38, director of the California Equality program, said the past few years have been challenging for LGBTQ Latinx people.

“We have dealt with the very hostile Trump / Pence administration, which has not made me feel like a Latino gay man,” Rodriguez said. “Almost every day, the president incites fear and emboldens fans to be open with racism, homophobia, and transphobia.”

Robbie Rodriguez of Los Angeles works for Equality California.Courtesy of Robbie Rodriguez.

But Rodríguez is optimistic about two recent Supreme Court rulings, one that makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, and the other that temporarily preserves DACA, the program that has granted relief from deportation of young immigrants “And we must observe the sense of solidarity that has developed in the community as a result of police brutality against African-Americans,” he said. “I was pleasantly surprised that the LGBTQ + community appeared and showed its ally to the black community, and raised their experiences.”

The visibility of the LGBTQ Latinx characters in the media is encouraging for Rodríguez, who recalled seeing “The Real World” on MTV when he was a child. “I saw the program with my family and I remember seeing Pedro Zamora, who was away and was HIV positive. That meant a lot to me. “

In recent years, the representation of Latinx LGBTQ on television has increased, in programs such as “Pose”, “One day at a time” and “Love, Victor”. A 2019 GLAAD report found that the percentage of Latinx LGBTQ characters had increased in transmission and cable, although the transmission percentages decreased.

Vico Ortiz has appeared on shows like “Vida” and “American Horror Story”.Courtesy of these / themes

Vico Ortiz, a Los Angeles performer who has appeared on shows like “Life” and “American Horror Story,” has seen a shift in public opinion for LGBTQ people, and believes that the entertainment industry plays an important role. “Having shows with strange characters is important. People who may not know any queer people watch these shows and hopefully that opens conversations from a place of empathy and compassion. ”

Ortiz, a millennium identified as non-binary, describes the past few weeks as a whirlwind. “The anti-discrimination ruling in the Supreme Court was surprising, but literally two days before that, the Trump administration announced that it would take away medical care for transgender people.” It is like a whiplash in your heart; we make fantastic progress, and then other things happen. It’s frustrating; I want future gay youth to not have to deal with any of these problems. “

Ortiz noted the absence of Pride events in person this year, but said the Black Lives Matter movement was, for now, more important. “We could be missing some brilliant parties, but we would not have Pride without riots and protests.”

Ortiz felt heavy on June 12, the fourth anniversary of the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which left 49 people dead. “I was also thinking of queer people who may be isolating or quarantining people they don’t support.”

‘Fight harder, stronger and fiercer’

Like other Americans, LGBTQ Latinx people face the constant threat of coronavirus. The pandemic has disproportionately affected Latinos, putting their health and economic well-being at risk.

For Dr. Rafael Campo, 55, the pandemic has echoes of a previous health crisis that hit the LGBTQ community in Latinx. Campo, who teaches and practices medicine at Harvard Medical School, graduated before drug treatments for HIV / AIDS were developed.

“There is a sad resonance in the way that HIV / AIDS originally impacted the LGBTQ Latinx population, and what is happening with the coronavirus now,” he said, drawing parallels in the lack of government response, the lack of access to care, infection stigma and health disparities. “How these two very different viruses affect communities of color is part of the symmetry.”

At times, Campo was besieged by evidence that the Latinx LGBTQ community appears to be facing. Some of his patients who survived the AIDS epidemic feel a new sense of trauma, because they are now at risk for COVID-19. “But there are reasons to hope. Demonstrations and activism around racial justice show the strength of our communities. Adverse circumstances can really unite us and help our communities become stronger and better. “

“We carry pride within ourselves, and no one can take that away.”

In Puerto Rico, human rights activist Pedro Julio Serrano, 45, is concerned about ongoing violence against transgender people, which in his opinion is not receiving the media attention it deserves. “Across the United States, members of the transgender community are being killed, and this is not happening in a vacuum. Trump’s fanaticism and divisive language have contributed to this cycle of violence. “

The new civil code of Puerto Rico, which defines innumerable aspects of daily life, is another issue that Serrano is deeply concerned about. The encrypted update has been controversial because it could be used to remove LGBTQ rights. “It makes us invisible,” said Serrano. “It no longer includes protections from discrimination. Many legal experts say it is inconsistent and poorly written, it is a judicial disaster. ”

The Latino LGBTQ community remains committed to the fight for total equality, Serrano said. “We are going to come back and fight harder, stronger and fiercer.”

Likewise, Serrano said that losing the Pride events in person was only a temporary setback. “Sure, when you are with other people you feel empowered and supportive. But you can’t cancel true pride. It is the product of many victories and struggles. We carry pride within ourselves, and no one can take that away. “

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