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Each March the U.S. celebrates women’s achievements and contributions to society during Women’s History Month. Though March has come and gone, it’s better late than never to acknowledge women and our innumerable contributions. In honor of this Women’s History Month, we picked a fierce poderos@ to profile, based on her valuable contributions to social justice and society in general.

This year our Women’s HERstory Month poderosa is Sylvia Rivera, who was a trans woman activist and queer youth advocate whose activism spanned over the course of four decades. She is sometimes referred to as the “mother of all gay people” – a title bestowed upon her during the Millennium March because of her important contributions to the LGBTQ liberation movement.

Sylvia Rae Rivera was born on July 2, 1951 in New York City to Puerto Rican and Venezuelan parents. She was orphaned as a toddler and raised by her grandmother for part of her childhood. However, her grandmother strongly disapproved of her defiance of traditional gender roles, including her affinity for wearing make up. As a result, Rivera began living on the street with a queer and gender non-conforming community at age 11 – an experience that would later influence her advocacy efforts for queer youth.

Rivera became politically active during the late 1960’s – a time when the nation was exploding with change from various social justice movements. She was involved in Puerto Rican and African American youth activism through the Young Lords and Black Panthers. But she really came into her own as an activist around the Stonewall Riots in 1969, which was a series of riots that sparked the modern wave of LGBTQ activism. While she was heavily involved in the LGBTQ movement, she noted its exclusion of transgender people at times. As a result, she focused her advocacy efforts on people who were often left behind.

Later in life she gave speeches about the Stonewall Riots and the importance of unity within the LGBTQ movement. While she struggled with personal demons, including substance abuse and a failed suicide attempt, she remained a vocal activist for equality until her death in February 2002.

More than a decade after her death, Rivera’s legacy and contributions to LGBTQ liberation remain strong. She was a founding member of Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists Alliance, and helped found Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries. The Metropolitan Community Church of New York, in which she was actively involved, named its queer youth shelter “Sylvia’s Place” in her honor. Additionally, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project was established in 2002, to fight against the discrimination of gender non-confirming people. But perhaps fellow activist Riki Wilchins best described Rivera’s integral role in the LGBTQ movement, saying “In many ways, Sylvia was the Rosa Parks of the modern transgender movement, a term that was not even coined until two decades after Stonewall.”

We invite you contribute to Rivera’s legacy by making a donation to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.

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Post by Nicole CatáIMG_20130802_115313_070

Because the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health is kicking off the Latina Week of Action blog series with posts about gender and reproductive justice, I was hoping to highlight a piece by Lauren Rankin at Truthout called “Not Everyone Who Has an Abortion Is a Woman – How to Frame the Abortion Rights Issue.”  The piece makes the case that the ongoing “War on Women” is not just a war on women, and that, as the Latina Institute has long recognized, the rights of trans men and gender-nonconforming people are also at stake in the struggle for reproductive justice.  Rankin calls on activists and advocates tackling “women’s issues” to incorporate more gender-inclusive frameworks and language.  I am grateful to Rankin, the New York Abortion Access Fund, the Latina Institute, and many others in paving the way for gender inclusivity in reproductive justice.

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Post Written by Valentina Forte-Hernandez

Note: In this blogpost Latin@ with an @ is used to be inclusive of all gender identities.

Take a moment to think of some of your favorite celebrities. Do you have a few in mind? Good, now take some time to think of your favorite queer, Latin@ celebrities. I’m not talking about inspirational activists, independent artists I’m talking about super stars. I’m talking about the people you see on billboards, in commercials, on the cover of magazines. It’s tough, right? The queer community and the Latino/a community are both individually underrepresented in popular culture. Queer and Latin@ representation is virtually non-existent in mainstream media. So what does it matter? Why do we need Latin@s represented in our media? LGBTQ Latin@ youth are suffering. They are being bullied, harassed and killed. Many of them have no adults in their lives they feel they can turn to, and almost all of them believe they must leave their current communities to live happy successful lives. Some people say that it is more difficult for LGBTQ Latin@s to come to terms with and be open about their sexuality because of the unique cultural values many Latino/a communities have. This idea ignores our societies’ responsibility to represent and support Latin@s, it blames Latino/a communities for their values and tells Latin@ youth that they must choose between being Latino/a and being queer. We should bring Latin@s into the spotlight to show our communities that we’re here, our identities are complex and valid. We deserve love and respect. We should be teaching Latino/a communities how to incorporate LGBTQ Latin@s into Latino/a culture, not telling them that their cultural values must be ignored.

Photo By Victoria Ramos

Photo By Victoria Ramos

The two main cultural values that are cited as being exclusive to LGBTQ Latin@s are religion and the importance of family. Religion has been used to oppress queer folks of all racial and ethnic identities. Using religion to deny the identities of queer Latin@s is making the assumption that being religious and being queer are mutually exclusive. A study of LGBTQ Latin@s called The Social Justice Sexuality Project shows that 60% of Latin@s look to their faith to provide meaning and purpose in their life, disproving that it is impossible to be both queer and religious. Religion is not a one size fits all suit, nobody practices their religion the exact same way as anyone else. The majority of Latino/as believe in Catholicism and though the Old Testament says that male homosexuality is a sin, there are quite a few sins that are punishable by death that have been ignored in the modern day including lying about one’s virginity, being a stubborn or and rebellious son and failing to pen a bull that is known to be dangerous and many more. Is it more important to follow every rule in the bible literally, or to follow the overall belief that God loves all of His children and we honor and love our neighbors and family? It is important to be respectful of religion and not to dismiss it as wrong or ignorant. Religion is an essential part of many peoples’ lives, however it should be recognized that religion is something that is learned and practiced while sexual identity is something we are born and live with. No one needs to abandon their religion to accept LGBTQ people, one just needs to realize that the importance of loving one another is a more valuable aspect of being religious than following the rules exactly as they were written thousands of years ago.

To say that valuing family excludes accepting LGBTQ Latin@s assumes that only “traditional” families are of value. Family love should be unconditional, and generally in Latino/a communities it is. The Social Justice Sexuality Project indicates that 52.9% of LGBTQ Latin@s feel supported by their families and another 29% feel somewhat supported. Another study of LQBTQ Latin@ youth indicates that 60% of Latin@ youth feels their family supports LGBTQ identities. Regardless of acceptance, less than half of LGBTQ Latin@ youth feel like they have an adult to turn to if they are sad or worried. If queer Latin@s were more present in the mainstream the general public would have more awareness about the needs of these young people and adults would be better prepared to help Latin@ youth confront issues that are specific to them. Family is extremely valuable in the Latino/a community and the love is there but the knowledge around LGBTQ Latin@s needs to expand.

Photo By Victoria Ramos

Photo By Victoria Ramos

LGBTQ Latin@s need their place in mainstream culture not only to improve their living conditions in their current communities, but also to expand the general knowledge of LGBTQ Latin@ issues. LGBTQ Latin@s are rarely the focus of LGBTQ and reproductive health advocacy, and almost never the focus of the general public. While LGBTQ Latin@s are fighting many of the same battles as other LGBTQ people, without focus or representation many issues specific to queer Latin@s go ignored. For instance immigration status has a huge effect on many Latin@s ability to access their reproductive rights and though immigration status may not seem to affect the entire queer community it must be addressed to serve the needs of a community as a whole. It is much more challenging for LGBTQ people to access all their healthcare needs than it is for heterosexual cisgender people. For LGBTQ immigrants, addressing all of their medical needs can be impossible. Currently, there is no way for a same-sex undocumented couple to be recognized at all. These are issues specific to queer Latin@ that cannot be ignored. Immigration reform is not something that can wait, it cannot be put to the side while other LGBTQ issues are dealt with in the spotlight.

The lack of queer Latin@s acknowledged by popular culture creates the illusion that these people do not exist. It denies Latin@ youth the role models they need and deserve. Having queer or Latina representation is not enough,  queer and Latina folks must be represented and acknowledged by the mainstream media. Both Latino/a communities and the general public need to gain greater awareness and acceptance of LGBTQ Latin@s. If we had more (or any) positive queer Latin@s represented in popular culture maybe people would stop trying to make Latin@s have to pick and choose which parts of their identity to accept. Maybe the minority of parents of Latin@ youth who are unsupportive would have someone to look to and help them come to terms with their child’s identity and maybe Latin@s would be targeted less often by people who are afraid of difference. To say Latin@s need to be represented by mainstream media is not entirely accurate. We don’t need a queer Latin@ star to validate our identities but we deserve our place in popular culture. We don’t need a famous Latin@ to prove that we exist because we’re certainly here and we’re not going anywhere. The mainstream needs Latin@ representation because we’re not getting any less queer or any less Latina and everybody needs to get used to it. With or without a celebrity advocating for us we are entitled to our identities. We are here and there will be more of us. We’re also fabulous and anyone turning a blind eye to us is seriously missing out.

The Social Justice Sexuality Project

http://www.slideshare.net/socialjusticesexuality/lgbt-latinos-in-the-social-justice-sexuality-project-vs-us-latinaos

Latino Youth Report

http://www.hrc.org/files/assets/resources/LatinoYouthReport-FINAL.pdf

Images were found on Vanessa Ramos’ WordPress, Follow Her Here:http://varphoto.wordpress.com/author/luxvideri/

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This past election cycle, we saw the power a government-issued ID can give an individual.   In states where voter ID laws were being enforced, individuals who did not have government IDs could not exercise their right to vote.  Several communities were impacted: transgender people, Latinos, African Americans, students, the elderly, people with disabilities – in short, many, many people. These ID laws harken to Jim Crow-era poll taxes and “literacy tests,”  and at the same time increased the impact of fear tactics used to intimidate voters from going to the polls, exacerbating the historic and current inequities that many communities of color face. (more…)

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a woman, with the text: I am undocuqueer. "As an undocumented jota I was taught to hate myself but I have consciously struggled to love me. Me siento libre!" - Imelda

Undocuqueer art by Julio Salgado

Today is National Coming Out Day, and though this day is usually reserved for coming out as LGBTQ, I want to complicate that and honor the undocuqueers, who are complicating the nationwide picture of LGBTQ people and that of immigrants:

We are queer undocumented youth. We cannot afford to be in either the queer or undocumented closet. We cannot and will not hide; we cannot and will not let those who haven’t been in our shoes decide and tell us how to act, how to feel and that this isn’t our home. We have the right to be whoever we want to be and love whoever we want to love. It is a shame that the only path we have to legalization is to lead a heterosexual lifestyle. We shouldn’t and won’t conform to such ideas. We have a right to live and love to the full extent of our capacity.

We urge you to come out! Now is the time to come and proclaim that you’re UndocuQueer, Unafraid and Unashamed!

Of course, the existence of people inhabiting these two spheres is not new: immigrants have always been part of the struggle for queer and trans liberation, as queer and trans folk have long contributed to immigrants’ rights and racial justice movements. But bringing together immigration and queerness under the “coming  out” umbrella has been a refreshing and beautiful addition to the national conversation. In a political context in which the notion of coming out has in many ways moved away from the beginning of a larger conversation about social justice and towards the individual achievement of “normal” gayness, lending the notion of coming out to the undocumented experience adds nuance and reminds us that queer liberation is inextricably tied to the liberation of all marginalized communities.

So this coming out day, I am honoring the undocuqueers and all the queer and trans folks out there reminding us not only that there is no queer liberation without collective liberation, but that it is indeed possible. ¡Adelante!

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This week, the Rights Working Group is hosting a blog carnival on gender and racial profiling, including a blog by yours truly on the impact of racial profiling on LGBTQ Latin@s:

Though racial profiling affects LGBTQ immigrants in particular ways that are specific to their sexual orientation or gender identity, these perspectives are rarely part of the national racial profiling conversation. It is imperative that social justice advocates incorporate an analysis around racial profiling that includes the perspectives of LGBTQ immigrants.

Check out the whole piece, and other fabulous pieces over at the blog carnival, which is being updated daily!

 

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This week, Congress decided to celebrate National Women’s Health Week by undermining Latinas’ rights to safe, legal abortion in immigration detention and in the District of Columbia, and by striping advances made in the Violence Against Women Act to prosecute intimate partner violence and other crimes. Muchas gracias por nada, Congress!

Here is a run-down of what has been going down on the Hill:

DHS Appropriations Abortion Rider

Rep. Price (left) opposed the anti-abortion amendment by Rep. Aderholt (right.) Source aderholt.house.gov

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday morning decided to strip the right to abortion care for Latinas’ and all women in immigration detention when they added an amendment (the “Aderholt” amendment) to a bill funding the Department of Homeland Security. The amendment, which passed in a party-line vote of 28-21, prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion care for women under immigration detention custody. The original amendment only allowed exceptions for life and rape, but not incest. The incest exception was added later. However, as our Executive Director Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas noted in NLIRH’s press statement, “Passage of the Aderholt amendment shows remarkable contempt for some of the most vulnerable women in our community.”

This amendment was completely unnecessary, as the dangerous and restrictive Hyde Amendment already applies to women in detention. Additionally, DHS has the Performance Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS), which are comprehensive stake-holder reviewed standards for health care in detention centers. This amendment would only open the door to interpretation to restrict access to services around abortion care, like transportation, follow-up care, and counseling, in instances where detained women pay for an abortion themselves.

With high levels of rape and sexual assault in immigration detention centers, and the fact that detainees may be U.S. citizens and those whose only crime was their presence in this country, attacking access to reproductive health care in detention is a dangerous and unjust move by House Appropriations leadership.

VAWA: The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act

Rep. Sandy Adams- Sponsor of H.R. 4970, a bill that takes the VAWA name, but leaves Latinas behind. Source: adams.house.gov

Just a few hours later, on Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 4970, a bill which calls itself the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). In reality, this bill rolls back protections for immigrant victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) and other crimes and excludes new protections for LGBTQ and Native American survivors approved in a bill passed by the Senate to reauthorize VAWA. The Violence Against Women Act, first enacted in 1994 with strong bipartisan support, has been reauthorized several times over the past decades with a history of cooperation across party lines. However, yesterday’s move by the House of Representatives broke that strong tradition. In doing so, they advanced a bill that actually rolls back protections for immigrant women, by allowing abusers to insert themselves into an IPV survivor’s immigration proceedings, and undermines the U-visa system, which is an important tool for abused immigrant women whose immigration status is used as a form of control. This House bill also notably excludes strong provisions for LGBTQ and Native American victims that which  were approved by the Senate in their bill to reauthorize this vital tool to combat domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and other crimes.

Rep. Gwen Moore- sponsor of H.R. 4271 modeled after Senate-passed VAWA and opponent of H.R. 4970. Source gwenmoore.house.gov

To add insult to injury, the powerful House Rules Committee, which establishes rules for debating legislation, prohibited any amendments to be added to H.R. 4970 before the vote. This meant that opponents of the bill, like Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI 4th), herself a survivor of sexual violence who faced challenges prosecuting her abuser, was unsuccessful in her many attempts to remove dangerous provisions for immigrant victims and include protections for LGBTQ and Native Americans.

D.C. 20-Week Abortion Ban

And today, House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution is hoping to advance legislation to deny the right to abortion care to the residents of the District of Columbia.

Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ-2), author of the racial profiling anti-abortion bill, the so-called “Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act,” now has his sights on imposing a dangerous abortion restrictions for the women of the District of Columbia. H.R. 3803, or the “District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” relies on the medically-debated concept of “fetal pain” to strip a Latinas’ and all women’s rights to essential and potentially health- and life-saving abortion care.

The bill, in addition to imposing an unconstitutional pre-viability abortion ban, contains a number of dangerous provisions that endangers women’s health and makes women vulnerable to numerous lawsuits. While the bill contains an exception in cases where women’s lives are in danger or when they face “substantial and irreversible” harm to a “major bodily organ,” this essentially means that women have to be on the brink of death or permanent disability in order to receive the abortion care she needs to preserve her health.

Official Photo of Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton

Official Photo of Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton. Source http://www.norton.house.gov

The bill allows the “father” of the fetus, or “maternal grandparents” in cases where a minor seeks abortion care, to file a civil lawsuit against an abortion care provider who violates this bill, showing a complete disregard and distrust of women to make the best health care decision for themselves. The bill also opens up the door to any party – spouses, parents, siblings, health care providers, guardians, even the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia- to file a lawsuit against abortion providers who provide abortion care at or after 20 weeks of gestation. What legislators, and even the U.S. Supreme Court, have failed to realize is that many post 20-week abortion are absolutely essential to preserve the health and life of a woman seeking abortion care. No woman should die or become ill as a result of a pregnancy.

Again, to add insult to injury, Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Rep. Franks and author of the 20-week abortion ban, has prohibited Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton from testifying.

NLIRH will be submitting testimony for the hearing today, as well as live Tweeting from Rep. Holmes Norton’s press conference and the hearing itself.

Stay posted by following our blog as well as our Twitter page.

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Today, President Barack Obama stated in a televised interview that he believes that same-sex marriage should be legal:

“At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” Mr. Obama told ABC News in an interview that came after the president faced mounting pressure to clarify his position.

This is a historic moment – it is the first time that a sitting U.S. president has stated a position in favor of marriage equality.

So how does this affect the lived reality of LGBTQ Latin@s? Well not too much, yet. Though this affirmation does not have any legal effect just yet – neither the Supreme Court nor Congress seem in a rush to overturn DOMA – this “evolving” of the president’s position does indicate the increasing visibility of LGBT advocacy in the last few years, and places the President in a position to do something about making that change.

When same-sex marriage does become a reality at a national level, there will surely be benefits for LGBTQ Latin@ communities. For one, LGBTQ immigrants with U.S.-citizen partners will have the option to be petitioned for permanent residency and citizenship, in the same way that straight people are able to do currently. This would be huge for the vast number of bi-national couples who face separation or having to leave the U.S. to be together. The Uniting America Families Act – a proposed measure that would allow U.S. citizens to petition same-sex partners for citizenship – also addresses this issue for bi-national same-sex couples and has been part of NLIRH’s policy priorities, but federal marriage equality would solve this issue altogether.

Although this is a step in the right direction, legalizing same-sex marriage does not even begin to scratch the surface of the social justice issues that LGBTQ Latin@s face today. LGBTQ immigrants face numerous barriers that marriage simply does not touch, and strategies that require immigrants to couple with U.S.-nationals for citizenship will only affect a small portion of the LGBTQ immigrant community. And though legalizing same-sex marriage may mean that some LGBTQ Latin@s will be able to share their partners’ health benefits, it will not create health benefits for couples in which neither party is insured. We envision a world in which everyone has access to care and in which everyone has the right to live and work in the communities they choose, regardless of marital status. Marriage equality will create these conditions for some, but will leave many LGBTQ Latin@s with these problems unresolved.

It is a good day for LGBTQ people today, but we must not envision marriage equality as the end. Only an end to inequity can bring reproductive justice for all!

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For day 3 of the Health Equity Can’t Wait! blog carnival, we’ve teamed up with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to write about LGBTQ and Latin@ health, making clear the importance of an intersectional analysis and advocacy:

We will never fully understand the struggle of someone trying to access an abortion if we do not also know how being a transgender man of color has affected his experience. We cannot know an immigrant’s struggle to access culturally competent and affordable health care if we do not think about how being queer has affected where she feels safe. If we do not look at the intersections, we paint an incomplete picture and we fail to see the very real ways that multiple marginalized identities play out in people’s lives.

Check out the whole piece over at the Task Force blog!

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