Pictured Photos from the Nov. 20 Orgullo event by Tracy Baim.
By Tania Unzueta Carrasco
In 2004 LLEGO, the only national Latino organization that served the LGBTQ population, closed its doors. After leaders from all over the nation gathered at the 'Sigamos Adelante Encuentro' ( 'let us continue forward' ) , a group of activists in Chicago began to organize locally. It was out of the void left by LLEGO, and the realization that local political queer Latino groups were necessary, 'Orgullo en Accion,' Pride in Action, was born. At its inaugural celebration on Nov. 20, they extended an invitation to all Latinos who are part of the queer community to join in the effort.
At the celebration, Carlos Mock opened with the story of Javier Jimenez, a queer New York City poet and his personal friend: 'On Oct. 26, he got beat up for being gay, and he did not want to go to the police or the hospital. Twenty years ago, they beat me up in the same way, and I did the same thing,' Mock told the audience.
He cites the high levels of homophobia within the Latino community, the lack of understanding of issues important to Latinos by the LGBT mainstream, as well as a general distrust of the police, as factors that contribute to people not reporting hate crimes or homophobic attacks. 'Our neighborhood has remained 20 years behind the rest of society', said Mock, 'and I promised him that I would work harder to take this message to the community.'
It is this focus on political and social activism that separates Orgullo from other already existing organizations in Chicago. 'We are not only looking for a space to gather and socialize, we want to create activism and social change' explains Mock.
Nilsa Irizarri, one of the co-founders and co-chairs of the group, also says that while there are queer Latino organizations in Chicago 'that serve the community beautifully, I see Orgullo as an organization that is able to develop leadership and political awareness.'
For this reason Orgullo already has a series of activities planned for next year, including a leadership conference and the first Latino Pride event in the City of Chicago for next year's Pride celebrations. Both Irizarry and Mock told Identity that the group is more than toying with the idea that it could be held in one of Chicago's Latino neighborhoods, specifically Humboldt Park, but it is more likely that, like other Pride celebrations, it is held in Boystown. 'It will be something small, a gathering, an event, perhaps eventually a march, and a Pride Parade maybe in 2007' says Irizarry.
They also have planned to have sub-committees that deal with particular important issues to the community. There will be one dedicated to young LGBTQ Latinos to discuss issues such as the high use of drugs, coming-out issues, housing, police violence, and suicide rates, to name a few. A national survey in 2002 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that Latino students 'were significantly more likely than white students to have reported a suicide attempt'—13% versus 8%. Among Latinas, the rates were almost three times higher than the rates of their male counterparts. Yet there are not spaces specific for Latino queer youth in Chicago. Orgullo seeks to fill that void.
Orgullo will also work on compiling a database of available services, and survey different communities to find out what services are lacking. The advocacy and legal committee will be in charge of 'responding to instances of reported discrimination, hate crimes, etc.' by way of 'calling for a protest, sit-in' or a legal strategy that promotes visibility. There will also be a committee that will address the needs of the monolingual Spanish-speaking population. This is particularly important because in the city of Chicago there are almost no resources in Spanish for queer people.
For Irizarry, services like these are important even if their necessity goes unperceived by many. 'There are immigrant women in our community, married, with children, who have realized that they are not homoosexual, and who are not happy in their marriage,' she told Identity, 'but they're scared that if they reveal who they are they will lose their children. They have no resources available right now.'
The issue of family is very personal to Irizarry. With three children she constantly has had to balance establishing her identity as a queer Latina, and respecting the wants of her children. She says, though, that she has used her involvement in social and political organizing as a chance for her children to learn about social justice. About her youngest, 11-year-old Diamond, she says 'I take her with me whenever I can. My children have to have a strong voice. I want them to be aware of what's going on in their community, challenge, be strong and independent.'
For the challenges and planning still in the future of Orgullo, the mission statement seems simple enough: 'A group of Latino/a LGBTQQ community members united in working for social and political change ... to promote education, leadership development, and to increase Latino/a LGBTQQ awareness within these communities.'
Carlos Mock sees a bit further into the future, saying 'our goal is that one day there will be no need for our existence, because there will no longer be any discrimination, or guys who get beat up for being gay.'
Yet Orgullo's goals for now will focus on making similarities amongst members of various communities visible. Nicole Perez, also co-chair of Orgullo, says that for her 'one of the most important things is realizing that discrimination that affects one person affets us all ... we are all human beings fighting for survival, for our lives, and our struggles are very connected,' she concludes.
Contact Nilsa Irizarry at 312-744-0167 or Nicole Perez at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can also visit their internet site, in progress, www.orgulloenaccion.org .