LULAC Hosts ‘Nothing About Us, Without Us’ this Spring as the Organization Celebrates 15 Years of LGBTQ Advocacy

Posted on 04/06/2021 @ 06:15 AM

Tags: LGBTQ, Health, Coronavirus, Empowerment

By Jesse Garcia, Chair
National LULAC LGBTQ Affairs Committee

This spring I celebrate 15 years of being a LULAC member, and LULAC is throwing me a big Quinceañera in April. You’re invited. Instead of a big plate of mole con arroz and una copa de champán, you can expect to hear policy discussions on social justice. And sorry, you can’t take the centerpiece home. This celebration will be virtual.

In all seriousness, LULAC will host an LGBTQ Policy Summit for its members and guests— “Nothing About Us, Without Us”—on Saturday, April 24, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (EST). The event will spotlight issues important to both LGBTQ and Latinx communities. We are on the verge of seeing our immigrant families obtain a pathway to citizenship and seeing our LGBTQ community leave its second-class status behind. It won’t be easy. We’ll have to educate a lot of family members, allies, and federal elected officials on the need for Immigration Reform and the Equality Act to pass both houses of Congress — intact.

We will also have meaningful discussions led by movement leaders on issues surrounding LGBTQ Youth, LGBTQ Elders, the Transgender Community, HIV/AIDS, and the Black Social Justice Movement. Check out speaker line up here.

This summit is something I have always dreamed about. A space where Queer Brown people can gather, create community, learn from each other, and uplift one another. This dream started in 2006 when I cofounded the very first LULAC LGBTQ council in Dallas, Texas.

That game-changing council was born from the ashes of an electoral defeat. After Texas voters passed an anti-marriage amendment in November of 2005, the LGBTQ community was in mourning. We had worked hard to defeat that hateful law. When LGBTQ activists did a post-mortem on the election, they noticed something promising. While Anglo and Black voters overwhelmingly voted to ban same-sex marriage in Texas, Latinx voters broke even. Nearly fifty percent of our gente voted to support our cause! There was an opportunity to build bridges with an ally that will soon become the largest segment of the Texas population.

Weeks before that election, I had sought assistance from National LULAC to help defeat this same-sex marriage ban. After a meaningful discussion with the National LULAC President, I was invited to form a council to start a dialogue with LULAC members about LGBTQ equality. I parked that idea in the back of my head and went back to focus on the fall election.

Being in the LGBTQ movement, very few Latinx folks have the time and energy to be thoroughly involved in the cause — and rarely do we hold leadership positions. But after that Texas election, I had to start having conversations in the Latinx community about LGBTQ equality. I wondered, if I start a LULAC LGBTQ Council, where would I find other LGBTQ Latinx individuals willing to make the commitment? Enter the Spring of 2006, when Latinx folks around the country began participating in MegaMarchas started by Dreamers on MySpace.

Dallas was home to one of the largest marches that year. We were told to show up on Palm Sunday in downtown Dallas with white shirts and American flags. When I arrived that morning, everyone was dressed in white and carrying Old Glory. But there was one little spot in the crowd that didn’t follow the rules. A contingent of out and proud Gaytinos showed up with Pride Flags. I had finally found future members of the Dallas Rainbow Council.

We started the Dallas Rainbow Council that summer and LULAC welcomed us with open arms. Since 2006, LULAC has also chartered LGBTQ-focused councils in San Antonio, Corpus Christi, the Rio Grande Valley, Washington, DC and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

LULAC has a long history of supporting LGBTQ equality. Several initiatives have been voted into LULAC’s legislative platform thanks to overwhelming support from its membership at National Conventions: Supporting the Equality Act (2019), Lifting Transgender Military Ban (2019), Relief for Transgender Asylum Seekers (2019), Opposing Conversion Therapy (2018), Affirming and Protecting Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People’s Rights (2017), Support for Marriage Equality (2012), Support for Employee Non Discrimination Act (2009), and Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (2008).

LULAC went a step further in 2018. Our National LULAC President created the first-ever National LULAC LGBTQ Affairs Committee and appointed me as its Chair.

For a third year in row, this committee has continued to make LULAC a more inclusive place. Helping me lead this effort is Vice Chair Maria Salazar (San Antonio, Texas), along with committee members Alexa Rodriguez (Baltimore, Maryland), Terry Borja (Arlington, Virginia), Nancy Cañas (District Heights, Maryland), Elias Cantu, Jr. (San Benito, Texas), Leti Gomez (Washington, DC), Nancy Vera (Corpus Christi, Texas), Javier Rodriguez (Washington DC), Renato De Los Santos (Dallas, Texas), Wilfred Labiosa (San Juan, Puerto Rico), Jacie Lozano (San Antonio, Texas), Joel Ramos (Cataño, Puerto Rico), and Jonathan Dromgoole (Arlington, Virginia).

Thanks to LULAC, LGBTQ Latinx activists have a place to organize and call home. For years, LGBTQ Latinx individuals have struggled to keep our organizing spaces open. There were several attempts in the 1980s and 1990s to form national LGBTQ Latinx organizations. They succeeded in producing some amazing advocates, but those organizations weren’t able to sustain themselves. With its enduring 92-year history of advocacy, LULAC can provide a foundation to help foster the growth of future Latinx leaders in the LGBTQ movement — leaders developed with ideals centered on intersectionality.

Thank you LULAC for opening your heart to your LGBTQ family. Don’t forget to register for the summit.

Jesse Garcia cofounded The Dallas Rainbow Council #4871 in 2006 and LULAC Lambda #11125 in 2014. He currently serves as Chair of the National LULAC LGBTQ Affairs Committee and as LULAC District of Columbia State Director. He is also a LULAC Youth Council sponsor at E.L. Haynes Public Charter School in Washington DC and hosts his own LGBTQ Latinx podcast www.jessegarciashow.com.

Preparing the Next Generation to be Pandemic Proof

Posted on 03/10/2021 @ 02:40 PM

Tags: LGBTQ, Health, Coronavirus, Empowerment

As 2020 closed out, it gave a parting shot to some of our most vulnerable populations: 82,000 Black women and 31,000 Latinx women lost their jobs in December, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Women of color, who depend on careers in the leisure and hospitality industries, saw their places of work temporarily or permanently close. For some households, these women were the sole breadwinner — multiplying the pain of this job loss.

While a new Presidential administration and Congress work to provide relief to families, many of our Latinx families will continue to suffer because of their citizenship status, which prevents them from qualifying for relief programs.

In the District of Columbia, the League of the United Latin American Citizens, (also known as LULAC —the oldest and largest Latinx civil rights organization) has volunteered with a food distribution program at the Capital Area Food Bank to help families like those mentioned above. We also donated to a food pantry that benefits Latinx immigrants in the DC area — the Latin American Youth Center. Hunger is an ever-growing threat to our community. Even though Latinx folks make up 11 percent of the population in the District of Columbia, we are nearly 38 percent of the Capital Area Food Bank’s clientele, according to its Hunger Report 2020.

In order to fight hunger and poverty, our approach is to get at the root of the problem, which is the lack of education. Our LULAC members understand that education is the great equalizer. Aside from raising funds for academic scholarships that benefit low-income Latinx students, we also participate as mentors for afterschool programs.

In the last three years, I have met with Latinx high school students on a regular basis to talk about social justice issues, Latinx history, civic engagement, and their future (with a heavy emphasis on college and careers). I bring Latinx professionals who share their journeys on how they made it in the real world with hopes that these teenagers will be able to see themselves in these guest speakers.

Two career paths my mentorship keeps pushing are jobs in science and medicine. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) careers are severely lacking Latinx individuals.

Additionally, as the previous labor report indicated, STEM careers are pandemic proof. In December 2020, the job growth for computer systems design and related services increased by 20,000 jobs, professional and technical services by 11,000 jobs, and business support services by 7,000 jobs. Furthermore, the health care sector added 39,000 jobs, along with employment growth in hospitals (32,000 jobs, and ambulatory health care services 21,000).

I cannot stress the importance of lighting a fuse among our Latinx youth to start thinking strategically when choosing a career path. Not everyone has to become a doctor, but you can become a medical assistant or support staff that will ensure you will be employed for the next 40 years.

Our world is forever changed because of COVID-19. The pandemic uncovered a secret held by management: it is possible to office at home 100% of the time. We are going to need the Class of 2021 to take on tech savvy jobs that will ensure that the Boomers and Gen Xers can connect successfully at home over the next decade.

I have shared this news with my DC students, but now I’m taking it across the nation. LULAC councils in the District of Columbia have collaborated with the National LULAC Office’s Project Rise, Toyota and Pepsi to sponsor Professional Skills Workshops this spring aimed at Latinx teens and young adults. These free sessions on Zoom will provide lessons on career exploration, job interviewing, and goal setting.

We’ve hired Latinx trainers who are mentors and career development professionals to lead these important discussions. I’ll be moderating these Zoom chats and cheering these students on.

“Career Exploration,” is scheduled for Saturday, March 20, from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m., EST. The session will focus on identifying occupations of interest and learning which fields will be in demand in years to come. Lisa Guadalupe Clarke, founder of ATL Search Group, will present. Clarke will also focus on comparing educational options to find the right training program, college or university.

“A Guide to Personal Development,” is scheduled for Saturday, April 3, from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m. EST. The session will focus on goal setting, life skills, time management and communication. Miguel Palomares, author of “The Latino Dream: How I got into an Ivy League and Escaped Poverty,” will present. Palomares will also touch on conflict resolution, self-esteem and family support.

Those of you interested can fill out a Google form to register by clicking here: bit.ly/3uy0d0K

I truly believe that we can honor those hardworking mothers who lost their jobs in December by lifting their children and helping youth and young adults access jobs that will help them avoid a similar fate as their mothers.

Share the workshop link above with a Latinx youth or young adult in your community who will be joining the workforce soon. And also share it with a mother who needs to refresh her resume and cover letter. LULAC is here to help.

Jesse Garcia is the State Director of LULAC District of Columbia. He also hosts a weekly podcast, www.jessegarciashow.com, featuring leaders in the Latinx and LGBTQ movements, available on iTunes, Spotify and Soundcloud. Follow him @jessegarciashow on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

This is MY HIV Story

Posted on 11/30/2020 @ 06:40 AM

Tags: Health

My name is Raul, and I am HIV Positive. I was diagnosed in 2010 when I was 32, during a time where I would rarely see a doctor. I never went to the doctor for my regular check-ups--much less to get tested for HIV--but I remember not feeling well for a while. I decided to get checked by a medical professional since I had symptoms that included a high temperature, sore throat, and weakness throughout my body. Unfortunately, this was during the time where I did not care much about anything but having fun. As a heterosexual male, I never thought I would end up living with HIV. It has no boundaries and can become a reality for many people; which is why I decided to open up about my story.

I informed my wife of my diagnosis once I got home. I knew it was time to face reality... my reality. I began to mentally prepare myself for the worst, which included accepting there was a chance my wife would leave me and take my son with her. In my head, this was the worst that I could have done to my family. I was not ready to be alone.

To my surprise, my wife took the news better than expected, reacting positively. She assured me that she would help and support me every step of the way, expressing how much she and my son loved me. Honestly, I was shocked to see her calm reaction. Although I had gotten the support I needed from my family, the next couple of weeks were very hard. I knew my wife supported me, but it took awhile for her to accept our new reality. I became depressed, thinking there was no way out.

I will not lie, it was a difficult process to accept my new reality. I quickly learned that I had to find a reason to continue fighting and move past these results. In my case, my motivation was my wife and my 8-year-old son. I had to reframe my thinking into something positive that guided me to better decisions. It was a challenge to get into treatment and stick with it but I wanted to keep fighting; I needed to.

Soon after, I returned to the hospital to see the different options available to me, including the treatments to consider. The hospital helped me find resources that existed for the HIV positive community. This was my first time finding out about all the accessible resources, most of them free. Until now, I have not paid out of pocket for medical treatment, therapy sessions, or anything related to my HIV diagnosis. Anyone can work with a provider to find and receive free resources through referrals and such. In my experience, I have been helped by loving, dedicated, and supportive people.

With my psychologist’s help, I gained the mental tools to navigate how to be confident in myself again, understand my status, and embrace that I was not alone. As for the HIV treatment I received, I decided to get on something called Stribild. For me, HIV treatment is not only about a pill; it is about a better lifestyle. I started making better health food decisions, recognizing dangerous and risky health situations, and using the resources I needed, such as extra supplemental vitamins.

The help of medical professionals and the support of my family throughout the process played a significant role in the support I needed to continue. Without their support, I do not know what path I would have taken. Since I have been in care, I have never been discriminated against based on my race, sexual orientation, or language barrier. HIV health providers understand that HIV has nothing to do with my identity. I have had nothing but amazing and welcoming HIV health providers who have provided me with Spanish resources. In my experience, I found HIV treatment to be way more accessible and easier to get than regular health care or a doctor’s visit. I believe HIV providers are very well organized and they have my highest respects.

In my opinion, one thing we need to work on as a community is getting rid of this stigma or sense of taboo when we talk about HIV. Our society needs to understand that anyone--straight, gay, bisexual, transgender, etc.--can be diagnosed with HIV. I’ve seen a couple of HIV treatment advertisements or commercials offering information on HIV while watching TV. Still, it seems like these commercials target specific populations rather than our society as a whole.

Decreasing the stigma around HIV is challenging to address, but with time and education, we can conquer it together. Our youth should be taught about HIV during their middle school years, as part of their health curriculum, so students can learn about these diseases to decrease the stigma around it. Also, it is essential to continue the outreach to people who are HIV positive and to encourage everyone to help reduce the spread of HIV. It’s as easy as using condoms or any other methods of protection, including being honest to each other and ourselves about being HIV positive. Together, we can significantly reduce and stop the spread of HIV.

For me, I am more concerned about everyday situations most of the time than my HIV status. I am responsible for doing what I can to live a healthier and “normal” lifestyle. Taking my medication is easy and quick; it hasn’t become a hassle for me at all. I was wrong, being HIV positive is not the end of the world. Now, every decision I take is for my loved ones, and the path I have taken is supported by my psychologists, healthcare professionals, and amazing family.

As a person who has gone through this struggle, I urge you not to go down a rabbit hole by thinking negatively and making poor decisions if diagnosed. This is a chance to accept the facts and work on a happier, healthier you. It’s a new beginning, just as it was for me when I decided to get treatment and support. You CAN find a reason to continue fighting for your life, which was my last step in accepting my HIV diagnosis. The one thing I wanted the most was to see my son grow up and share with him the best years I can offer next to my life partner. After ten beautiful years, my son is 18-years-old now and I thank God for giving me the strength to turn my life around to be here today.

We do not know the future and I cannot let my diagnosis drive worries in my life. I trust the doctors, case managers, phycologists, social workers, and the many other people helping me with my HIV services. Instead, I have learned to continue living as my whole self and to be happy.

To learn more about bilingual resources available and checking your status, visit LULAC.org/salud

LULAC Remembers Those Lost to Transphobia

Posted on 11/18/2020 @ 02:40 PM

Tags: Civil Rights, LGBTQ

They were our friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members—but most importantly—they were fellow human beings who deserved the right to live free from violence.

On November 20th, Transgender Day of Remembrance, we mourn and celebrate transgender people who were taken from us too soon. In 2020, American communities experienced the most violent year for Transgender people in five years with 35 deaths of transgender or gender non-conforming individuals. Advocates believe the number is higher but due to the lack of coverage or misrepresentation, these murders go unseen.

Recently, we lost Angel Haynes, a 25-year-old Black transgender woman who was killed in Memphis, Tennessee. Angel was a licensed cosmetologist and was shot on October 25, 2020. Black transgender women make up two-thirds of the victims in the United States.

According to National Center for Transgender Equality, transgender people—particularly Black and Latina transgender women—are marginalized, stigmatized and criminalized in our country. They face violence every day, and they fear turning to the police for help.

“It is unbelievable that there is no compassion for members of our community in the midst of this global pandemic,” said Bamby Salcedo, President and CEO of The TransLatin@ Coalition in a recent statement about a community member, Daniela Hernandez, who survived an attack in October that left her hospitalized. “I do not get why people continue to have this kind of hate towards our community, being that our community is one of the hardest hit from this pandemic,” added Salcedo.

Earlier this year, six transgender individuals were murdered in Puerto Rico: Penélope Díaz Ramírez, Alexa Negron Luciano, Yampi Méndez Arocho, Serena Angelique Velázquez, Layla Sánchez and Michellyn Ramos Vargas. In any other circumstance, a half-dozen killings would dominate headlines globally. Yet, because they are transgender, this may be the first time you are learning about these serial murders.

The Latinx community needs to address this horrible hate, phobia, femicides, and toxic masculinity that has been allowed to go unchecked for too long. If we don’t, who will? If not now, when?

We urge our elected leaders and community organizers this November 20th to remember and take action on behalf of those ripped from us. Learn about the discrimination faced by transgender people and help us work for change now to create a lasting impact. Team up with local transgender organizations; support local, state or federal transgender public accommodation and protection laws; and seek out members of the transgender community and invite them to become members of your LULAC council. Inclusion leads to dialogue and understanding. Understanding leads to respect and love of every human being and removes the fear and stigma that divides us. Please, just reach out.

America’s civil rights extend to all marginalized communities. If we are to remain relevant as the oldest and largest Latino civil rights organization in the nation, we need to include every single member of our Latinx family. National LULAC and its membership has created a space to include discussions on transgender rights.

From affirming Transgender rights in public accommodation, supporting Transgender military service in our U.S. Armed Forces, to protecting Transgender asylum seekers at the U.S. border, LULAC has taken a stance. We hope you do too.

For allies who want to learn more about the transgender community, click here for a Human Rights Campaign guide used by media that explains the community’s terms. To learn about issues affecting the transgender community, click here to see the legal cases being worked on by the Transgender Law Center. To learn about the work being done in our Latinx community, click here to read about the activist organization TransLatin@ Coalition.

Remember those lost and say their names. Thank you to PGHLesbian Correspondents for keeping their memories alive.

Dustin Parker – McAlester, Oklahoma. January 1, 2020. Age 25.
Alexa Negron Luciano – Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. February 24, 2020. Age 29.
Yampi Mendez Arocho – Moca, Puerto Rico, March 5, 2020. Age 19.
Monica Diamond – Charlotte, North Carolina. March 18, 2020. Age 34.
Lexi – Harlem, New York City, New York. March 28, 2020. Age 33.
Johanna Metzger – Baltimore, Maryland. April 1, 2020. Age 25.
Penélope Díaz Ramírez – Puerto Rico. April 13, 2020. Age 31
Serena Angelique Velazquez – Puerto Rico. April 22, 2020. Age 32.
Layla Pelaez – Puerto Rico. April 22, 2020. Age 21.
Jayne Thompson – Colorado, May 2020. Age 33.
Nina Pop – Sikeston, Missouri. May 3, 2020. Age 28.
Helle Jae O’Regan – San Antonio, Texas. May 6, 2020. Age 20.
Tony McDade – Tallahassee, Florida. May 27, 2020. Age 38.
Selena Reyes Hernandez – Chicago. May 31, 2020. Age 37.
Dominique Rem’mie Fells – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. June 8, 2020. Age 27.
Riah Milton – Liberty Township, Ohio. June 9, 2020. Age 25.
Brayla Stone – Sherwood, Arkansas. June 25, 2020. Age 17.
Tatiana Hall – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, approx June 29, 2020. Age 22.
Merci Mack – Dallas, June 30, 2020. Age 22.
Draya McCarty – Baton Rouge, Louisiana, July 2020. Age unknown.
Shaki Peters – Amite, Louisiana, July 1, 2020. Age 32.
Bree Black – Pompana Beach, Florida, July 3, 2020. Age 27.
Marilyn Cazares – Brawley, California, July 13, 2020. Age 22.
Tiffany Harris – Bronx, New York, July 26, 2020. Age 32.
Queasha D. Hardy – Baton Rouge, Louisiana, July 27, 2020. Age 24.v Aja Raquell Rhone-Spears – Portland, Oregon, July 28, 2020. Age 32.
Kee Sam – Lafayette, Louisiana, August 12, 2020. Age 24.
Aerrion Burnett – Independence, Missouri, September 19, 2020. Age 37.
Mia Green – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, September 28, 2020. Age 29.
Michelle Ramos Vargas – Puerto Rico, September 30, 2020. Age 33.
Felycya Harris – Augusta, Georgia, October 3, 2020. Age 32.
Brooklyn DeShauna Smith – Shreveport, Louisiana, October 7, 2020. Age 20.
Sara Blackwood – Indianapolis, Indiana, October 11, 2020. Age 39.
Angel Haynes – Memphis, Tennessee, October 25, 2020. Age 25.
Yunieski Carey Herrera – Miami, Florida, November 17, 2020. Age 39.

By Jesse Garcia, Chair, National LULAC LGBTQ Affairs Committee

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