by Lauren Means
A study from the Williams Institute reveals there are approximately 1.4 million LGBT Latino/a adults currently living in the United States. Latino/a’s makeup 146,000 same-sex households in the U.S. with 29.1 percent of those households raising children. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 5.5% of the Tennessee population identifies as Hispanic or Latino however, there are not currently any specific statistics on people in Tennessee who identify as both LGBT+ and Hispanic.
Our Hispanic community, rich in culture and history, has a lengthy history of advocacy of LGBT+ equality. For this reason, it is important to recognize some of the activists, trail-blazers, and trendsetters within our LGBT+ Hispanic community. In celebration of Hispanic Heritage month (September 15-October 15), we have highlighted six members of the LGBT+ Hispanic community who have helped make strides in achieving equality for all.
Born December 12, 1922, in San Francisco, CA, José Sarria was not only a drag performer but also a political activist. Sarria was active in politics during a time when openly gay people were not only excluded from much of the political scene but often harassed by local law enforcement. He served in World War II and upon returning back to the states, went to school to become a teacher. His path changed, however, and he ended up a server at the infamous Black Cat Lounge which lead to his career as a drag performer where he was called “The Nightingale of Montgomery Street”. He was not only an entertainer. He gave a voice to those who were targeted by the police and encouraged them to speak up and speak out about these injustices. He was noted as using the phrase “United we stand, divided they arrest us one by one”.
In 1961, paving the way for future LGBT+ political candidates, Sarria ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. as an openly gay man, one of the first openly LGBT people in the world to run for political office. Although he did not win a seat on the Board of Supervisors, he did received 6,000 votes which showed the potential for political power from a unified LGBT community and helped other openly LGBT+ candidates secure future wins.
Additionally, Serria helped found a number of homophile organizations including League for Civil Education, Tavern Guild of San Francisco, and the Imperial Court of San Francisco. Serria passed away on August 19, 2013. (photo: John Stephen Dwyer)
For many years Laura Esquivel struggled with feeling like she had to choose between being gay or Latino. She said it wasn’t until the 1987 Gay and Lesbian March on Washington when she spoke of this struggle with Ceasar Chavez that she was given clarity, “He held my hand and said, ‘You have a right to be heard and be seen as both Latino and as gay people.’”.
And has she been heard! Esquivel was an integral part of establishing many Latino LGBT+ groups in the 1980s including Gay and Lesbian Latinos Unidos (GLLU), AIDS Project-LA, and Bienestar, “which is the largest HIV/AIDS agency working exclusively in Latino communities in Southern California”. She then moved on to Washington where she helped organize LLEGÓ, the Latino Lesbian and Gay Organization. In her first 15 years with LLEGÓ, she eventually was in a position to bring visibility to opposing the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA). She was often times the first person of color coming to legislators to discuss LGBT+ issues. In a move that would assist with her work against FMA, she was appointed the senior VP of political affairs for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. She was able to debunk common stereotypes of Latinos by polling them directly and shifting the conversation to the community naturally opposing FMA.
In addition to her political activism, Esquivel has been an adjunct professor, a campaign manager and political strategist, the Director of Research and Issues Marketing for People for the American Way, and owned her own consulting practice. In 2008, she was named one of the 20 most influential LGBT Latinos in the country by Adelante magazine. (photo: Austin Justice Coalition)
An artist and an activist, Ray Navarro moved to New York in 1988 and joined ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power). ACT UP is “a diverse, non-partisan group of individuals united in anger and committed to direct action to end the AIDS crisis”. ACT UP brought attention to the AIDS crisis through mass demonstrations right on the streets of NYC. In addition to ACT UP, Navarro was a member of ACT UP’s video-documenting affinity group, DIVA TV. This is where he gained some notoriety by dressing “as Jesus Christ reporting the news outside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral during ACT UP’s “Stop The Church” protests against Cardinal O’Connor’s position on AIDS and contraception”.
Navarro also co-founded the Latino Caucus of ACT UP in New York and collaborated with Zoe Leonard on a photographic series, Equipped. He chose to take part in this after losing his sight to an AIDS-related complication, Cytomegalovirus retinitis. Sadly, Navarro passed away from AIDS-related complications at the age of 26. (photo: Visual Aids)
The deputy director of the Transgender Law Center, Isa Noyloa has been working to bring awareness to trans people and the conditions they face while being detained in immigration facilities. She also advocates for trans women’s release from ICE detention centers. She self-identifies as a “translatina, gender-fluid, activist, two-spirit, queer, jota, muxerista, and chingona cultural organizer”.
Noyola organized a national trans anti-violence convention, the first of its kind, in 2015. According to the TLC, she also is a part of the #Not1more campaign team and sits on the advisory boards of TAJA coalition, El/La para Translatinas, and Familia: Trans, Queer Liberation movement. (photo: Transgender Law Center)
Professional boxer and Olympic athlete, Orlando Cruz made history in 2012 when he came out as gay. As boxing’s first openly gay fighter, he has opened the door, not only for other athletes but also members of the Hispanic/Latino community to come out. Cruz said after coming out, “everyone from his mother to boxing fans embraced the news — and him”. He knows that is not the case for everyone and hopes this opens the conversation up to allow acceptance within the community. (photo: Steve Marcus / REUTERS)
Born and raised in New York City, Sylvia was an activist and advocate for many underserved and underrepresented communities. She started during the Civil Rights Movements, continued with anti-war and feminist protests, and eventually taking part in the Stonewall Riots. From there she became outspoken for transgender rights, homeless queer youth, and people of color.
Rivera was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front, the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), and Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) with Marsha P. Johnson. In the 1990s, Rivera revived STAR, now called Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries with the aspiration of it becoming an active political organization.
Today the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP), a non-profit organization that engages in policy work and provides training and free legal services for transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming low-income people of color, is named in her honor. (photo: Sylvia Rivera Law Project )