June is Pride Month, and while we celebrate our LGBTQIA+ brothers and sisters on the regular, this is a special time to rightfully put the focus on this amazing community, and culture. Within the community, there are people who have made their mark, fighting for equality, justice, and recognition for themselves and others–many of who are Latinx.
But the struggle continues, and we must find the inspiration, from these trailblazers and heroes, to continue the fight for true equality. We are currently seeing the Trump administration try to erase trans people through the erasure of their healthcare. We are still observing hate crimes perpetrated against our LGBTQIA+ brothers and/or sisters, especially those of color. While things have changed a lot over the decades, they are not where they need to be.
As always, we strive to highlight Latinx history in the United States and the people who created it. Here are 15 Latinx LGBTQIA+ icons who repped their identities, made crucial changes, and opened doors for LGBTQIA people everywhere. Let us follow their example.
Puerto Rican and Venezuelan Sylvia Rivera became an LGBTQIA icon, through her work advocating for trans rights and being part of the gay liberation movement. A self-proclaimed drag queen, as part of her work for justice, Rivera joined the Gay Advocates Alliance, and stood out by standing up for, and representing, the underrepresented trans, drag, POC, and low-income people within the LGBTQIA community. Today, there is a street named after Sylvia Rivera (Sylvia Rivera Way) in New York’s Greenwich Village (where she began organizing), among other honors.
Many of us will remember Cubano Pedro Zamora appearing on our TV on the MTV show The Real World: San Francisco in the ’90s. He was one of the first men, and Latinxs, to publicly share his life on television as a gay person, with AIDS. Pedro also had the first gay commitment ceremony on TV; it was moments like this, and his openness and honesty, that helped bring attention to, and normalize, the LGBTQIA experience.
Today, the show Pose honors and offers a glimpse into the Black and Latinx LGBTQ underground ballroom culture scene of the ’80s and ’90s. But Nuyorican trans star Angie Xtravaganza was there, originally, in all her glory, even appearing in the iconic 1990 documentary Paris is Burning. The House of Xtravaganza is still slaying in New York, a testament to its legendary House Mother.
Colombian Jose Julio Sarria was born in San Francisco, where he became an LGBTQIA icon. He worked as a drag performer at the Black Cat, where he encouraged patrons to not be ashamed of their identity and instead embrace it. Sarria also stood up against police harassment against LGBTQIA , which was routine during the 1960s. In 1961, Jose Julio Sarria ran to become a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, making him the first openly gay candidate for public office in the country.
It is a brave thing to live your truth, and Afro-Mexican Amelio Robles was doing just that–during the Mexican Revolution. Born Amelia Robles, he fought in the war as a male Zapatista colonel, becoming the first transgender soldier in Mexican military history. Amelio lived openly as a man from his 20s, until his death at the age of 95.
Gonzalo “Tony” Segura
Another Latinx who is celebrated during Pride Month is Gonzalo “Tony” Segura. The Cuban co-founded the New York chapter of the Mattachine Society in 1955, which is credited as the first national LGBT organization. He also served as a co-founder of the Richmond Gay Rights Association, and became the first openly gay speaker in New York TV history in 1958.
Gloria Anzaldua was a Chicana poet, author, and activist, who used words to convey her experience as a lesbian. In the process, her visibility made others visible, and represented. In addition to sexuality, Anzaldua also tackles themes including border culture, Chicanx culture, feminism, mestizaje, and spirituality.
Mexican Ramon Novarro was one of the legendary Latin lovers of Old Hollywood (and cousin to Dolores del Rio), starring in such films as Scaramouche, Ben-Hur, and Laughing Boy (opposite Lupe Velez). But, unlike many other major actors during that time, he refused to be a part of a lavender marriage, which is one set up by movie studios in order to keep gay actors closeted.
Mexican Jeanne Cordova made it her life’s work to stand up for lesbian rights. Some of the activist, journalist, writer, and publisher’s achievements are organizing lesbian conferences, serving as L.A. chapter President of the Daughters of Bilitis, helping to found the Gay and Lesbian Caucus of the Democratic Party, founding Lesbian Tide (the first magazine to feature the word “lesbian” in the title, and the first U.S. lesbian magazine to reach a national audience), and founding the West Coast LGBT movement.
Dennis deLeon made his mark in the fight against HIV/AIDS with his contributions. One of the first officials in New York to disclose his HIV status publicly, the Chicano served as a human rights lawyer, President of the Latino Commission on AIDS, the New York City Human Rights Commissioner, and according to the Latino Commission on AIDS (as told to CNN), “one of the first openly HIV-positive Latino leaders in the country.”
Dr. Horacio Roque Ramirez, Ph.D.
Horacio Roque Ramirez was a Salvadoran writer, advocate, and oral historian, whose work centered around LGBTQIA Latinx communities, including that of San Francisco’s Mission District; and Central American cultures and immigrations. Living with an HIV-positive diagnosis, Ramirez was a tenured professor at UCSB, in the Chicano/a Studies department. He was also “an expert on immigration as it relates to Political Asylum based on iender Identity, s,exuality, HIV status as well as domestic and gang-related forms of persecution and violence,” with over 17 years of “direct legal court experience in relation to political asylum cases with women and men throughout the U.S., focusing on Central America and Mexico.”
Television is touted as a representation of society, but it has long excluded many marginalized groups. The LGBTQIA community is one such group historically left out of what we grew up seeing on TV. That’s why actors such as Wilson Cruz, and the role he played of Rickie Vasquez on My So Called Life are so important. He became the “first openly gay actor to play an openly gay character in a leading role in an American television series.” In the process, Rickie Vasquez gave millions of LGBTQIA people a face to recognize as their own, and a life they could relate to. Wilson Cruz is also a singer, producer, and activist, advocating for LGBTQIA youth, especially those of color.
Frida Kahlo is an icon on many levels–as an Indigneous Latinx, as a female, as an artist. She also was open about her bisexuality, serving as inspiration for others to follow suit. Probably the most important thing we have learned from Kahlo is how to take negative life experiences and turn them into strength and artistic expression.
Another iconic Latinx trans activist you should know is Mexicana Bamby Salcedo. She founded the TransLatin@ Coalition, created to “organize and advocate for the needs of Trans Latin@s who are immigrants and reside in the U.S.” Salcedo has also served as Health Education and HIV Prevention Services Coordinator at L.A.’s Children Hospital, and co-initiated the TransLives Matter Day of Action. Among other accomplishments and achievements, in 2012, Bamby spoke at the White House, as part of a panel for Women and Girls National HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
Wayuú Venezuelan actress and model Patricia Velasquez is credited as being the first Latina lesbian supermodel. Coming in second runner up for Miss Venezuela in 1989, she went on to walk international runways for brands including Chanel, and Chloe; land the covers of magazines including Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar, and being the first model photographed by designer Karl Lagerfeld. As an actress, she appeared in films such as The Mummy, and The Curse of La Llorona. Velasquez also founded The Wayuú Tayu Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to preserving “the cultures of Indigenous groups throughout Latin America by way of support and the drastic improvement of living conditions.”