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Honoring LGBTQ Voices During Hispanic Heritage Month

Too often, curricula and media position racial and sexual identities as either/ors. Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity to change that.

Hispanic Heritage Month is an important opportunity to highlight the contributions of LGBTQ Hispanic and Latinx* individuals to Hispanic and Latinx culture. Too often, our curriculum and media position racial and sexual identities as either/ors. This contradicts the lives of our LGBTQ students of color. The erasure of LGBTQ Hispanic and Latinx individuals was made apparent during this year’s Pride Month when several white gay men bemoaned the inclusion of brown and black stripes to the rainbow flag in Philadelphia. Reactions to a flag designed to represent the racial diversity within the LGBTQ community exposed the erasure practiced within the community.

Educators have a platform to counter this erasure in their curriculum where the lack of visibility for LGBTQ Hispanic and Latinx individuals has been a longstanding issue.

Sylvia Rivera holding sign that reads "Power to the People"
Sylvia Ray Rivera at gay liberation demonstration, New York University, 1970. Photo by Diana Davies

History teachers, for example, have an opportunity to shed light on pivotal LGBTQ Hispanic and Latinx figures like Sylvia Rivera, whose activism included the founding of the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activist Alliance. A true history of civil rights isn't complete without Rivera's contributions. Similarly, comprehensive histories of Hispanic and Latinx communities must include the LGBTQ individuals within those communities. Laura M. Esquivel, who worked alongside civil rights icons Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, was vital in pushing for activism that honored both her racial and sexual identities. The organization Gay Lesbian Student Education Network (GLSEN) has put together a list of “unsung heroes” who are Latinx and LGBTQ.

 

Teachers who focus on LGBTQ history, do you incorporate the voices of Hispanic figures?

The history of Stonewall, for example, is fragmented if it does not include the crucial role LGBTQ Hispanic and Latinx communities played. Teaching about these unsung heroes and this unsung history provides context that can help us reverse contemporary erasure of Hispanic and Latinx members of the LGBTQ community.

One example of this contemporary erasuer is the story of the 2016 tragedy at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. The complete story cannot exclude the fact that the attack was on LGBTQ Hispanic and Latinx communities. Unfortunately, much of the media reporting following the tragedy erased the racial and ethnic identities of the survivors and victims. A 2017 study by psychologists Johanna Ramirez, Kirsten Gonzalez and M. Paz Galupo published in the influential Journal of Homosexuality found that many LGBTQ Hispanic and Latinx individuals felt the full breadth of their identities were negated in the coverage following the Pulse massacre. As the authors summarize, participants felt “isolated and invisible in their own personal crises.” Educators can honor the reality of the victims' and survivors' identities by explicityly naming them when discussing the act of violence at Pulse.

Another contemporary issue that highlights the need for intersectional teaching is how the Trump administration's decision to rescind the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program impacts LGBTQ Hispanic and Latinx undocumented citizens. As policy consultant and activist Catalina Velasquez points out, DACA impacts immigration, health care and LGBTQ rights. Ignoring or de-centering the sexuality of DACA recipients denies the reality of their experiences.

But LGBTQ Hispanic and Latinx experiences are multifaceted and need not be relegated to discussions of tragedies or setbacks. Educators can create space in their curriculum to honor the experiences of LGBTQ Hispanic and Latinx people and highlight their contributions to our culture, society and history.

Monica Márquez, for example, made history when she was sworn in as the first openly gay Latina justice on the Colorado Supreme Court. Mary Yu, whose mother is from Mexico and father is from China, made history as Washington state’s first Latina, Asian-American and openly gay state Supreme Court justice. John A. Pérez was the first openly gay Speaker of the California Assembly, and the first openly gay speaker of any state legislature. These figures have been instrumental in creating more just spaces in their respective states.

Washington state Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu sworn in
Washington state Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu after being sworn in to the bench May 2014. AP Images/Elaine Thompson

Educators can create space in their curriculum to honor the experiences of LGBTQ Hispanic and Latinx people and highlight their contributions to our culture, society and history.

English teachers can turn to young adult literature to honor LGBTQ Hispanic and Latinx narratives. Benjamin Alire Sáenz has several books, including the increasingly popular Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe, centered on LGBTQ Latinx characters. Chulito by Charles Rice-Gonzalez follows the titular character’s journey as he navigates coming out to his community and friends. The website Remezcla, which focuses on Latinx art and culture, recently recognized Chulito as one of ten books featuring “well-developed, complex Afro-Latino characters.” Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not, History Is All You Left Me, and They Both Die in the End all center on gay Latinx characters. Cris Beam’s I am J chronicles the story of a Puerto Rican and Jewish transgender boy as he begins to navigate life as his true self. Isabel Quintero’s Gabi, A Girl in Pieces, while not focusing on an LGBTQ character, does feature a detailed storyline about the eponymous character’s friend Sebastian, who comes out as gay over the course of the narrative. Gabby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath weaves a complex narrative with humor, feminist theory and complex discussions about race. The website Latina offers other suggestions for books centering on LGBTQ Latinx experiences.

Philadelphia rainbow flag
AP Images

The Hispanic and Latinx students I teach who identify as LGBTQ are quick to note the needed visibility of both of their identities within school curriculum and our broader socio-political narrative. In a noted exchange with Cesar Chavez, Laura M. Esquivel worried that she “had to pick being gay or being Latino.” Chavez reportedly responded that Esquivel and others had “a right to be heard and be seen as both Latino and as gay people.”

Our LGBTQ Hispanic and Latinx students deserve that same right. It’s time our curriculum and narratives honor their identities.

* I use “Hispanic and Latinx” throughout this post to be as inclusive as possible as not all people who identify as Hispanic also identify as Latinx and vice-versa. Additionally, journalist Gabriela Herstik recently pointed out the colonist nature of the identifier “Hispanic.” I teach students who identify as Hispanic, Latinx and both. It is my goal to honor their identities and lived experiences.

Miller teaches ninth-grade English Language Arts at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, the University of Florida’s affiliated K-12 laboratory school. He is also a recipient of the 2016 Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Teaching.