What Pride Feels Like to Me as a Queer Latina

POPSUGAR Photography | Ashley Ortiz
POPSUGAR Photography | Ashley Ortiz

As a second-generation immigrant, I was raised to understand that my elders had endured hardships I would never have to experience, thanks to their sacrifices. Similarly, when I came out as pansexual/queer at the age of 26, I realized that I'd inherited a new set of ancestors to thank for my freedoms: the pioneers of the gay liberation movement, especially those of color. And while Pride celebrations in June are a great way to honor our ancestors and ourselves, Pride for the queer community goes beyond just 30 days.

The History of Pride Month

POPSUGAR Photography | Ashley Ortiz

The Pride Month that we know today began as a single day of celebration on June 28, 1970, one year after the gay, lesbian, and trans patrons of a bar called the Stonewall Inn resisted arrest and rebelled against the police in 1969. Before this uprising occurred, and for many years after, all aspects of queerness were criminalized. Anyone who identified under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, whether they were cis gay men, trans women of color, or lesbians, risked criminal prosecution just by existing in public. While the uprising at Stonewall did not cause any immediate legislative change in gay rights, the activists' multiday rebellion in the streets of New York City's Greenwich Village eventually caused the police to retreat. This showed members of the queer community that they did not have to hide anymore, especially when banded together.

POPSUGAR Photography | Ashley Ortiz

While cisgender, white gay men are often credited as the heroes of the revolution, trans women of color were the true heart of it. One Latinx trans woman, Sylvia Rivera, spent her entire adult life advocating alongside her best friend and mentor, Marsha P. Johnson, for Black and trans youth experiencing homelessness. Due to their race and gender identities, however, the two women were met with consistent vitriol by their own community. When it was time for the first Pride parade, for example, the white, cisgender, gay men who planned it told Rivera and Johnson that they could only march in the parade if they were all the way in the back. In an act of rebellion, the two women defied their orders and moved to the very front of the parade.

Sylvia's life was filled with rejection, even by the gay community and even at Pride, where she was booed off the stage for giving an impassioned speech about the sacrifices she's made to liberate every person in attendance. Sylvia died in 2002 still fighting for change and respect from her own community. As a second-generation Latina immigrant, I feel a strong appreciation and love for my familial ancestors, and as a queer person, I recognize that the freedoms I have that allow me to live authentically are due largely in part to the sacrifices trailblazers like Rivera made.

Queerness Within a Latinx Family

POPSUGAR Photography | Ashley Ortiz

Because of conservative religious teachings and deeply misogynistic cultures, older Latinx generations often have a misunderstanding of what any gender and romantic expression beyond the binary male/female means. This creates a stigma within our families about queerness, which can ultimately lead to the rejection of a queer family member. And, if the family is not open to learning and growing, the person coming out is subsequently forced to choose between living their authentic lives or hiding who they are just to receive love from their family. A 2020 study showed that Latinx LGBTQ+ youth are more than four times as likely to report a suicide attempt compared to non-Latinx youth. This is mostly due in part to culture-related experiences of stigma, discrimination, and victimization.

When a queer person chooses their authentic self over their family relationships, it is always done at an emotional cost. A queer person still needs and deserves support in all areas of their life regardless of how they dress or who they love. Thankfully, there is a growing number of LGBTQ+ celebrities who demonstrate to queer folks that all is not lost, even when it feels like it is.

Celebrities like Ariana DeBose — a queer, Black, Latinx Oscar-winning actor — and Mj Rodriguez, an Afro-Puerto Rican actress whose performance in the show "Pose" led her to become the first trans person to win a Golden Globe, show younger queer folks that they can live authentically and succeed at fulfilling their dreams without having to compromise either of the two. Continued support of the work produced by queer Latinx celebrities such as DeBose and Rodriguez all year long, instead of just for one month, is the best way to demonstrate pride for them as individuals and for their communities.

The Impact of Queer History

POPSUGAR Photography | Ashley Ortiz

I find it empowering to be able to say, "This is who I am," out loud and proud, and even more so empowering to see queer Latinx celebrities succeed in all the ways that are typically reserved for cis white men. It has helped me to accept the person I've been my whole life, as well as inspire dreams for what my future could hold. I hope future generations of queer Latinx folks continue to see even more representation in all sectors of life beyond entertainment. I hope they feel empowered to be leaders, unabashedly themselves, and continue to inspire change for future generations that are to come, just like our queer ancestors did for us.