Latina and Latino LGBTQ Organizations and Periodicals

views updated


Fear of homophobic rejection by families and communities of origin has kept many LGBT Latinas and Latinos from engaging in LGBT activism, while racism has reduced LGBT Latina and Latino participation in white-dominated LGBT organizations. This historical pattern tends to obscure the presence and contributions of those LGBT Latinas and Latinos who have created and/or participated in LGBT groups and projects. In addition, the lack of coverage of issues important to LGBT people of color in the mainstream LGBT press has exacerbated problems of Latino and Latina invisibility. According to Lydia Otero, Unidad, the newsletter of the Gay and Lesbian Latinos Unidos in Los Angeles, was created in part "because we can't rely on the [mainstream] gay and lesbian press to document our history for us," (Podolsky, p. 6).

Homophile, Gay Liberationist, and Lesbian Feminist Activism

As the process of uncovering the history of LGBT Latinas and Latinos in the United States has progressed, evidence of an LGBT Latina and Latino presence has been found in homophile-era organizations. The first homophile group, the Mattachine Society, was formed in Los Angeles in 1950. Its New York City chapter was cofounded in 1955 by Cubano Tony Segura. When ONE, Inc., was founded in 1952, Tony Reyes, an entertainer, was a signer of the articles of incorporation. The Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), the first known U.S. lesbian organization, was founded in San Francisco (1955) by four couples, including a Chicana and her Filipina partner.

In 1961, San Francisco Cubano drag show entertainer José Sarria ran for the city's board of supervisors as an out gay man, and although he lost, he received six thousand votes. In the 1960s, Cubana Ada Bello joined DOB Philadelphia and edited first the chapter's newsletter and later the newsletter of the Homophile Action League. In the DOB, Bello used a pseudonym because she did not want to jeopardize her application for U.S. citizenship. When the Cuban Revolution proved unfriendly to homosexuals, homophile activists gathered in front of the United Nations in 1965 and staged one of the earliest public LGBT protests.

The generational marker for many LGBT baby boomers was the 1969 Stonewall Riots, and at least one Latino actively participated in that historic event. Puerto Rican–Venezuelan drag queen and transgender activist Ray (Sylvia Lee) Rivera later recalled: "To be there was so beautiful. It was so exciting. I said, 'Well, great now it's my time. I'm out there being a revolutionary for everybody else, and now it's time to do my thing for my own people'" (Rivera, p. 191). Rivera and others later formed STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), and decades later Rivera was credited with helping amend New York City's antidiscrimination statutes to include transgender people.

Following Stonewall, gay liberation and lesbian feminist groups proliferated, but few Latinas/Latinos (or people of color) actively participated in the new wave of white dominated groups. One exception was Gay Liberation Front Philadelphia; Kiyoshi Kuromiya, a Japanese American, recalls that 30 percent of the membership in 1970 was Latino. In Los Angeles the Lesbian Feminists, a radical political group of the early 1970s, counted a handful of lesbians of color (including several Latinas) as members. In Oakland, California, the Third World Gay Caucus (1976) included Latinos, who sponsored a Tardeada (afternoon social event). In 1972 a group of New York Latino gay men published a Spanish language literary magazine called Afuera.

Early LGBT Latina and Latino Organizations

Beginning in the 1970s, LGBT Latina and Latino organizations were formed to deal with the specific concerns of Latinas and Latinos. LGBT Latina and Latino groups provide a support system and opportunities for socializing in a culturally sensitive environment as well as opportunities for learning organizing skills. Regardless of geographic location, most LGBT Latina and Latino organizations have engaged in a dual approach to activism, working on behalf of both Latina-Latino and LGBT causes.

In Los Angeles, the organizing pattern for many Latina lesbians was to join Chicano movement groups and find them to be sexist and homophobic (1960s and 1970s); move into the LGBT community and find themselves facing sexism and racism (1970s); form Latina-specific groups and collaborate with activist groups of various ethnicities and sexual orientations (1970s); join Latino and Latina LGBT cogender groups (1980s); and form a new wave of Latina lesbian groups while collaborating with LGBT, people of color, and progressive groups (1980s–2000s).

The first known LGBT Latino group in Los Angeles was Unidos, organized by Chicano Steve Jordan (also called Jordon) in 1970. Other early groups include Greater Liberated Chicanos (cofounded by Rick Reyes as Gay Latinos in 1972) and United Gay Chicanos. In Puerto Rico, Rafael Cruet and Ernie Potvin founded Comunidad de Orgullo Gay in 1974. The group published a newsletter, Pa'fuera, and established Casa Orgullo, a community services center. The earliest known Latina lesbian group, Latin American Lesbians, met briefly in Los Angeles in 1974. Jeanne Córdova, a lesbian of Mexican and Irish descent, joined DOB Los Angeles and transformed the chapter newsletter in the Lesbian Tide (1971–1980), a national publication. Although it published little material on lesbians of color, Lesbian Tide is arguably the newspaper of record of the lesbian feminist decade of the 1970s.

Most recovered LGBT Latina and Latino history is from urban areas. However, in the early 1970s two Latino gay men joined gay activists Harry Hay and John Burnside to fight what archivist and writer Jim Kepner called a "water rip-off scheme" in New Mexico. During the 1970s, a group of Latina lesbians negotiated an agreement that permitted them to occupy a portion of white lesbian land in Arkansas, and they named the parcel Arco Iris. Juana Maria Paz, a welfare activist, lived on that and other "womyn's" land and later wrote about her experiences.

The Late 1970s

In the late 1970s, as more LGBT people of color activist groups formed, white-dominated groups and publications began to pay some attention to LGBT people of color issues. Organizers of the founding conference of the National Lesbian Feminist Organization (NLFO, 1978) invited few women of color as delegates, but white delegates insisted that those women of color who were present (mostly Latinas from San Francisco and Los Angeles) be credentialed as delegates. The reconstituted delegate body approved a measure declaring that half the seats on the NLFO Steering Committee must be lesbians of color of diverse class backgrounds. Five Latinas were elected to the Steering Committee. Although the NLFO did not last long, the ethnic parity policy set a precedent.

After the NLFO conference, lesbians of color in Los Angeles and San Diego formed groups with the same name, Lesbians of Color (LOC). In 1980, Latinas in Los Angeles Lesbians of Color formed a subgroup (Lesbianas Latina Americanas). Los Angeles LOC members also collaborated with white lesbian groups. For example, they led the antiracism workshop at retreats organized by the Califia Collective. In 1983, Los Angeles LOC organized the first National Lesbians of Color Conference. Over two hundred lesbians and progressive women of color attended this event in Malibu, California.

Toward the end of the 1970s, Latina lesbians in Seattle contributed to the single published issue of the Lesbians of Color Caucus Quarterly in 1979, and in the same year, Latinas and Latinos in Austin, Texas, formed what was probably the only LGBT chapter of the Brown Berets. In New York City, twelve lesbians and gays marched openly in the 1979 Puerto Rican Day parade. Ten years later, there were over fifty marchers.

Religion is a major theme in the psyches of many Latinas and Latinos. Some of those who felt uncomfortable with the homophobia of the Catholic Church found an alternative in pastor Fernando Martinez's Latin Church of Christian Fellowship, founded in Los Angeles in 1979. Others, including Vilma Torres, joined Troy Perry's Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), where Torres later served as a minister. Another alternative was Dignity, a Catholic LGBT organization formed in 1969.

As the 1970s came to a close, a lesbian and gay march on Washington was proposed. Several large mainstream LGBT groups felt that the time was not right for such a momentous event. Ignoring those concerns, grassroots LGBT activists met in Houston and began to plan for a 1979 march. They voted to have lesbians of color lead the march, followed by men of color. Juanita Ramos (Juanita Diaz-Cotto), a member of COHLA (Comité Homosexual Latinoamericano), served on both the national planning committee and the New York committee and was a speaker at the March on Washington rally. Twenty-four years later, Lizbeth Menendez, an activist and labor organizer, was a regional coordinator for the 1993 March on Washington.

In conjunction with the first March on Washington, the first National Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference was held near Howard University. Latina/Latino groups participating included Latinos Unidos (Los Angeles), COHLA (New York City), Latins for Human Rights (Miami), Comité Latino de Lesbianas y Homosexuales de Boston, Gay Alliance of Latin Americans (San Francisco), and Houston Gay Chicano/a Caucus. Although elated about participating in this historical gathering, attendees also struggled over the lack of attention that the numerically superior Latina/Latino and African American groups paid to Asian, Pacific Islander, and Native American issues. Solidarity prevailed, however, as the People of Color contingent came together to participate in the march and rally.

The 1980s

In 1980 thousands of Cubans, including LGBT people, were allowed to leave their homeland, embarking from the port of Mariel (thus their name, Marielitos). Boston activists formed the Boston Area Coalition for Cuban Aid and Resettlement (BACCAR) and obtained funding for La Casa Amarilla, a halfway house for the immigrants. The Metropolitan Community Church, with parishes in many U.S. cities, also organized a network of MCC members willing to serve as host families.

During the early 1980s, the Gay Hispanic Caucus in Houston sponsored cultural and social activities and published a newsletter, Noticias. In Long Beach, California, Raices Latinas offered social and cultural events. In Los Angeles, Gay Latinos Unidos, later Gay and Lesbian Latinos Unidos (GLLU), was formed in 1981. The group became a significant political presence in Los Angeles LGBT activist circles under presidents like Roland (o) Palencia, Laura Esquivel, and Lydia Otero. In 1983, GLLU lesbians formed Lesbianas Unidas (LU) but remained affiliated with GLLU until the 1990s. LU's activities illustrate the dual political and cultural commitment of Latina/Latino LGBT groups: LU sponsored a popular annual retreat, participated in the planning of the first Lesbianas Feministas Encuentro (conference) in Mexico in 1987, marched against the Simpson Mazolli anti-immigration legislation in 1984, participated in the twentieth anniversary commemoration of the Chicano Moratorium march in 1990, and offered financial support to a hospital in Nicaragua.

LU women also participated in the Connexxus Women's Center/Centro de Mujeres (CX) in West Hollywood. At its peak (1984–1990), CX was a $200,000-a-year operation. Initially, few women of color were invited to participate in planning the center. However, Latina lesbians called a meeting with key CX organizers Adel Martinez and Loren Jardine and, after negotiations, Latinas became an integral part of CX. (All three CX board presidents were Latinas.) CX sponsored a Latina lesbian outreach program in East Los Angeles at a Latino social services agency and cosponsored the first Latina Lesbian Mental Health Conference in 1987. It also sponsored photographer Laura Aguilar's groundbreaking Latina Lesbian Series.

In Texas, the Gay and Lesbian Tejanos Conference was held in 1986, and participating groups included the Gay Hispanic Coalition of Dallas, Gay and Lesbian Hispanic Unidos (Houston), and Ambiente (San Antonio). Also participating was ALLGO (Austin Latina/Latino Lesbian and Gay Organization), an organization formed in 1985, which continues to offer support groups, cultural events, and health education programs. In Washington, D.C., ENLACE was formed in 1987 as a Latino gay and lesbian political support group. Members marched in the District of Columbia's annual Hispanic Parade and set up Hola Gay, a Spanish language hotline. In Chicago, Lesbianas Latinas en Nuestro Ambiente was formed in 1988. In the same year, the Los Angeles–based, nationally circulated Lesbian News published a column of information and news of interest to Latinas ("La Plaza"). Since that time columns by comedian Monica Palacios and journalist Vicki Torres have appeared in Lesbian News.

The International Lesbian and Gay People of Color Conference was held in Los Angeles in 1986, and both Latinas and Latinos served on the steering committee. After the conference, a group met to found a Latino caucus, which eventually evolved into LLEGÓ, now the premier LGBT Latino organization in the United States. LLEGÓ's programs include lobbying, sponsoring national encuentros in the United States and Mexico, and organizing community capacity-building training programs. When Lesbianas Latinas de Tucson in Arizona organized the first Latina Lesbian Conference in the fall of 1994, LLEGÓ provided funding. LLEGÓ also provided a grant to Lesbianas Unidas to conduct interviews for the Latina Lesbian Oral History Project in Los Angeles.

In the 1980s, AIDS began to decimate the gay male community. In 1989, Los Angeles LGBT Latino activists were awarded a grant to address issues of neglect toward HIV/AIDS in the Latino community. Under the leadership of CEO Oscar de la O, the organization evolved into a multiservice organization with ten locations in southern California. Recently, it has sponsored LUNA (Latinas Understanding the Need for Action), a women's program. Other Latino HIV/AIDS programs and health services providers include PCPV (Proyecto Contra Sida Por Vida) in San Francisco, which offers health care outreach to the transgender community; GALAEI (Gay and Lesbian AIDS Education Initiative) in Philadelphia; and Mano a Mano, a coalition of New York City Latino gay organizations that uses HIV/AIDS funding to run programs like SOMOS, which works against homophobia in the Latino community, and the Capacity-Building Project, which provides grants to gay Latino groups. The 1980s was also the decade when LGBT people began to address publicly the issues of substance abuse. Lapis, an outreach and prevention program aimed at Latina and African American lesbians, was funded in the late 1980s through the Alcoholism Center for Women in Los Angeles.

Recent Developments

During the last decade of the twentieth century and into the first decade of the twenty-first century, LGBT Latina and Latino organizations continued to emerge to address both the changing and ongoing needs of the community. Among these were SOL (Somos Orgullo Latino, Oregon, 1993); HOLA (Homosexuales Latinos, St. Louis, Missouri); GLACE (Gay and Lesbian Association of Cuban Exiles, Miami); ALMA (Association of Latin Men for Action, Chicago, 1993),which has marched in Chicago's Puerto Rican and Mexican Independence Day Parades; Amigas Latinas (Chicago, 1996), a support, education, and advocacy group; and Ellas en Acción (San Francisco, 1993), a lesbian advocacy, arts, and educational organization that played a role in the election of a Latina lesbian, Susan Leal, to the city's Board of Supervisors in 1993. LLUNA (Latina Lesbians United Never Apart, Boston, 1993) has organized an International Women's Day event and participated in gay pride and Columbus Day events. Las Buenas Amigas (New York City, 1993), an educational, cultural, political, and social organization, promotes safe space and visibility for Latina lesbians. Groups for monolingual Spanish speakers include Dos Espiritus, a support group for gay men in Elgin, Illinois, and a chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) in Tucson.

Progressive grassroots organizations with a strong Latina and Latino LGBT presence include the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center founded in 1987 in San Antonio by Graciela Sanchez. After homophobic pressures led the city to cut Esperanza's funding, the center sued and won. La Voz, Esperanza's magazine, is edited by Gloria Ramirez.

Arts advocacy organizations include Viva (founded in the 1980s in Los Angeles), which promotes the work of LGBT Latina and Latino artists; the MACHA Theatre Company (Mujeres Advancing Culture, History, and Art), also in Los Angeles; and QUELACO (Queer Latino/a Artists Coalition) in San Francisco, which promotes queer Latina and Latino art and produces an annual art, cultural, and performance festival.

In the 1990s, Colombiana writer, activist, and librarian Tatiana de la Tierra published three Latina lesbian magazines—Conmoción, Esto No Tiene Nombre, and Telaraña. In 2003, Tongues is an arts magazine and Web 'zine published by a Los Angeles lesbians of color group of the same name. Many of the active members are Latina lesbians, including artist Alma López, whose image Our Lady— a controversial depiction of Our Lady of Guadalupe—caused a furor in New Mexico in 2001. Two LGBT Latino publications with a national readership are QV, established in 1997, and Tentaciones, created in 2000. In 2003, Tentaciones published a list of the sixteen most influential LGBT Latinas and Latinos in the United States, which caused some consternation in Chicago, since none of its longtime Latina and Latino activists made the list. "En La Vida," the Latina/Latino section of Chicago's Windy City Times (which is available online) promptly published a list of Chicago LGBT notables.

LGBT Latinas and Latinos continue to struggle against homophobia and racism, along with sexism, class oppression, linguistic discrimination, and immigration status. Organizations and publications that focus on their issues serve as a counter to prejudice and as a source of support, advocacy, and orgullo (pride).


Aponte-Parés, Luis, and Jorge Merced. "Páginas Omitidas: The Gay and Lesbian Presence." In The Puerto Rican Movement:Voices from the Diaspora. Edited by Andres Torres and José Velázquez. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998.

D'Emilio, John. Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940–1970. 2d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Kepner, Jim. "Lesbian Gay Latino History Project Emerges from National Gay Archives." NGA Newsletter, 1983, pp. 4–5.

Leyva, Yolanda. "Breaking the Silence: Putting Latina Lesbian History at the Center." In The New Lesbian Studies: Into the Twenty-first Century. Edited by Bonnie Zimmerman and Toni A. H. McNaron. New York: Feminist Press, 1996.

Martin, Del, and Phyllis Lyon. Lesbian/Woman. San Francisco: Glide, 1972.

Podolsky, Robin. "Linkage." LA Weekly, 23 December 1988, p. 6.

Retter, Yolanda. "On the Side of Angels: A History of Lesbian Activism in Los Angeles, 1970–1990." Ph.D. diss., University of New Mexico, 1999.

Rivera, Ray ("Sylvia Lee"). "The Drag Queen." In Making History: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Rights, 1945–1990, an Oral History. Edited by Eric Marcus. New York: Harper-Collins, 1992.

Roque Ramirez, Horacio. "Communities of Desire: Queer Latina/Latino History and Memory, San Francisco Bay Area, 1960s–1990s." Ph.D. diss., University of California at Berkeley, 2001.

Sanchez, Edwin. "Reclaiming a Birthright." New York Native, 17 July 1989, p. 11.

Stein, Marc. City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945–1972. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Yolanda Retter

see alsoanzaldÚa, gloria; cordova, jeanne; diazcotto, juanita; latinas and latinos; latina and latino studies; moraga, cherrÍe puerto rico; reyes, rodrigo; rivera, sylvia; sarria, josÉ tavera, hank.

About this article

Latina and Latino LGBTQ Organizations and Periodicals

Updated About content Print Article