LGBTQ History Month provides a timely opportunity to reflect on our collective history, paying keen attention to individuals who have made tremendous contributions to the community.
Queer Latinx people have been a powerful voice of change, transformation, and acceptance in both communities. But while they’ve been at the forefront of nearly every queer movement, Latinx, Afro-Latinxs, and indigenous people of color have long been marginalized—even erased—from our history.
We must pay honor to whom honor is due. Though far from complete, below is a selection of queer Latinx individuals—mostly activists and deceased—whose contributions and achievements should be remembered.
Sylvia Rivera, 1951-2002
If I were to highlight one LGBTQ icon, it would be the pioneering transgender and civil rights activist Sylvia Rivera. Of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent, Rivera has become the “Mother of the Movement” for her historic leadership, from leading the 1969 Stonewall riots to subsequent protests. Rivera was a visionary who rose above her time through outspoken, social justice work. Alongside Marsha P. Johnson, a fellow gay liberation activist, Rivera co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) to support queer youth and sex workers.
José Julio Sarria, 1922-2013
Who was the first openly gay person to run for office in the United States? A Latino. Born of Colombian parents, José Sarria served in the military during WWII and became a trailblazer for the gay community in the 1960s when he ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in ‘61. Also known as the Grand Mare, the Widow Norton, and Her Royal Majesty, Sarria was also a drag queen who founded the Imperial Court System, which has grown into an international charitable organization.
Christina Hayworth, 1940s-Luis Carle
Christina Hayworth (left) and Sylvia Rivera (right).
Christina Hayworth was one of the first openly trans woman in Puerto Rico, a Colonel in the U.S. Army and Vietnam War, and the founder of the LGBT pride parade in Puerto Rico in 2003. Most notably, Hayworth was present at the Stonewall Riots and became a Latin American ambassador for the Stonewall Riots Veteran Association (SVA). Hayworth also appears alongside Sylvia Rivera in this historic photograph, which, in 2015, became the first portrait of trans Americans to hang in the Smithsonian Museum.
Holly Woodlawn, 1948-2009Leee Black Childers/Redferns
Holly Woodlawn, like Christina Hayworth, was also a trans woman born in Puerto Rico and present at the Stonewall Riots. She was thrust into the national spotlight when she starred in the Andy Warhol films Trash and Women in Revolt (1971). She also wrote a memoir, A Low Life in High Heels (1991), and her estate helped create the Holly Woodlawn Memorial Fund for Transgender Youth in L.A.
Dennis deLeon, 1948-2009Ted Thai/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty
As president of Latino Commission on AIDS, Dennis grew the organization from a staff of two to a staff of 45, with a budget of $5 million working alongside 380 orgnaizaitons across the country. DeLeon’s feats include translating HIV information into Spanish and serving as Human Rights Commissioner in 1986, making him one of the first prominent Latinos in New York City politics, as well as one of the first officials to disclose publicly his HIV status in an 1993 New York Times op-ed.
Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa, 1942-2004
Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa, a Mexican-American lesbian professor, feminist, and writer, was best known for co-editing the important anthology, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1981) and authoring Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1993). Anzaldúa’s work reflected on the concept of imaginary division between Latinxs and non-Latinx gays and lesbians, offering keen insight into her experiences of Chicano, Latinx, and American cultures.
Horacio Roque Ramírez, 1969-2015Getty
Horacio Roque Ramírez was a professor at UC Berkeley, San Jose State University, UC Los Angeles, and UC Santa Barbara where he focused on queer sexuality, LGBTQ oral history, and the discrimination undocumented immigrants and political asylum seekers face on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. In addition to co-editing Bodies of Evidence: The Practice of Queer Oral History (2012), Ramírez’s wrote Queer Latino San Francisco: An Oral History, 1960s-1990s, a decade-long ethnographical study on the formation and partial destruction of queer Latina and Latino community life in San Francisco, which will be published posthumously next year.
Angie Xtravaganza, 1964-1993
If there’s one queer space that Latinx people have shaped, it’s the ballroom scene. There are so many people in the community that have contributed this scene, including Angie Xtravaganza, whose House of Xtravaganza was featured in the iconic documentary Paris Is Burning. The film, which also introduced audiences to Venus Xtravaganza and Madonna’s “Vogue” dancers Luis Camacho and José Gutiérrez, inspired the FX hit series Pose. When Angie founded House of Xtravaganza, she was the youngest of the legendary mothers and made the group the city’s premier Latina house.
Ray Navarro, 1964-1990
Ray Navarro was a Chicano artist and activist who co-founded the Latino Caucus of the direct action organization ACT UP in New York City. He was also a member of DIVA TV (Damned Interfering Video Activists) documenting community activism and the public testimonies around the fight against AIDS. In 1989, he filmed an ACT UP demonstration at St. Patrick’s Cathedral dressed as Jesus Christ.
Gonzalo “Tony” Segura, 1919-1991Getty
In 1955, Gonzalo “Tony” Segura founded and led the New York City chapter of the California-based Mattachine Society, at the time the country’s only large-scale gay rights advocacy group. His worked helped create a national network of gay activists. In 1959, he moved from New York to Richmond, VA, where he continued to spread his work by challenging the prohibition of alcohol sale to gay people. In 1977, Segura also became a founding member of the Richmond Gay Rights Association.
Pedro Zamora, 1972-1994
Born in Cuba, Pedro Zamora became one of the first openly gay men living with AIDS to appear on television when he starred in MTV’s The Real World: San Francisco. In 1993, Zamora testified before Congress arguing for more accessible HIV/AIDS literature, and after the series, he continued to push for federal HIV prevention and care programs. Then President Bill Clinton credited Zamora for letting “young America [see] a peer living with HIV,” and praised his “compassion and fearlessness.”