11 Latinxs Reshaping Queer History

Like a lot of young queers growing up in conservative spaces, I didn’t have access to – or even really even knew a lot about – the LGBTQIA+ community, and even less about the Black and Latinx people that have organized and protested fiercely and tirelessly against discrimination and contributed to our visibility over the years. The fight for our rights and livelihoods is continuous, but especially for Black Trans Women, who should be safe, whose needs should be met, and who should celebrated and honored.

I can’t help but think that if I’d had someone in my life to teach me about queer history; to sneakily (at the time) lend me queer young adult novels; or maybe stumbled upon shows like Steven Universe on Cartoon Network; if I had had the language, maybe there would have been less despair through high school and college, upon learning to accept my queerness.

It was through the power of the Internet, LGBTQIA-centered events and friends that became family, that I learned about queer love, and the vulnerability, comfort and power of being a part of a community. Listening to others’ stories, reading about the lives of queer activists and artists, and being wholeheartedly accepted, taught me that it’s essential to show up for those around you, and to gently and unapologetically embrace the ever-changing self that you are.

And so, with all the beauty and devastation that comes with being alive, but especially as a queer Bori, here are 11 Latinx passed and present, that helped and continue to help shape queer history as we know it, and whose legacy we celebrate and honor everyday. 

  1. Sylvia Rivera, 1951-2002

Of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent, Sylvia Rivera was an iconic trans and civil rights activist. She was at the forefront of the Stonewall Riots in 1969 with trans activist Marsha P. Johnson, and together founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), a collective that provided housing and support to queer youth and sex workers in New York City. Rivera tirelessly fought against the exclusion of transgender people from the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act in New York and was a voice for low income LGBTQIA+ people, drag queens and POC. Undoubtedly, Sylvia Rivera helped pave the way for LGBTQIA+ rights today. 

  1. Bamby Salcedo

Born in Guadalajara, México, Bamby Salcedo is a trans activist, speaker and the CEO and president of TransLatin@ Coalition, a national organization that focuses on the needs and rights of trans Latinxs in the US. Bamby’s upbringing, her determination and gratitude for being alive (she is known for saying, “Yo soy un milagro. I’m not supposed to be here.”) made her commitment to bring visibility and voice not only to the trans community, but also HIV awareness, incarceration, migration, and the Latinx communities resolute. The documentary about her life, TransVisible: Bamby Salcedo’s Story shows how she turned personal challenges and barriers into the basis of her activism. Today, she also works as the health education and HIV prevention services coordinator at the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. Follow her @labamby.

  1. Amaranta Gómez Regalado

Amaranta is a trans Indigenous Muxe activist and social anthropologist from Juchitán de Zaragoza in Oaxaca, Mexico. She has advocated and worked in health, sexuality, ancestral gender identities and human rights for over 20 years. She was regional secretary for the International Secretariat of Indigenous People to HIV, Sexuality and Human Rights (or SIPIA in Spanish), where she would organize other Indigenous leaders of Latin America to create strategies to respond to the problem of HIV in the Native communities. Amaranta is currently an Assembly Citizen for the National Council to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination (or CONAPRED in Spanish), and the General Coordinator for the Muxhe Reconstruction Project, which aims to raise funds for the reconstruction of homes in the Tehuantepec Isthmus. Latin America’s first trans school in Chile is named after her. Follow her @amarantamuxe.

  1. Angie Xtravaganza, 1964-1993

A founding member and Mother of the House of Xtravaganza, the first primarily Latinx ballroom house in New York, Angie was the youngest of the legendary mothers at the time.The hit series Pose, which is about the ballroom scene culture in the 80s and 90s, is largely inspired by her and the house, where many queer Black/Latinx people found chosen family, dancing and dressing as a way to express themselves. Angie was also featured in the 1990 documentary, Paris is Burning, which focuses on ballroom culture in New York City and the LGBTQIA+ communities involved in it. Angie was born in New York City to Puerto Rican parents.  

  1. Sonia Guiñansaca 

Sonia is an internationally award-winning queer migrant poet, activist, speaker, educator and cultural strategist. Born in Ecuador, they are the author of Nostalgia and Borders, a collection of poetry that intertwines stories of being migrant, finding the self and searching for home. In 2008, they joined the first and only undocumented youth-led organization in New York, the New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSYLC), where they worked as core organizer, board member and founded the Arts and Expression Program. Sonia coined the term #PapiFemme for Latinx of Color, who are both non-conforming and femme, after noticing that most non-binary language and dialogue is centered around white American bodies. Their second book by the same name was set to release in Spring/Summer 2020. Follow them @thesoniag.

  1. Shariana Ferrer Núñez 

Shariana is a Black Puerto Rican queer feminist, activist, scholar and organizer. She is the co-founder of La Colectiva Feminista en Construcción, a grassroots feminist political project organizing on issues at the intersections of gender, race, class and sexuality in the fight against capitalism and the patriarchy. Ferrer Núñez’s political practice centers intersectionality as the forefront for dismantling systems of oppression and building movements for social justice through collective power. Follow her @SharianaApesar.

7. José Sarria, 1922-2013

Photograph by John Stephen Dwyer

José Julio Sarria was a Colombian American activist, drag performer, and World War II veteran from San Francisco, California. Sarria was the first openly gay candidate running for public office in 1961, seeking a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He performed drag at The Black Cat, where he encouraged crowds to be proud of who they are. Sarria also founded The Imperial Council, an association that raises money for primarily LGBTQIA+ causes, that now has over 60 chapters around the world. 

8. Erica Malunguinho

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Born in Recife, Brazil, and now living in São Paulo, Erica Malunguinho is an educator, artist and the first Black trans woman to be elected as State Deputy for São Paulo. One of her main motivations to run was the murder of Marielle Franco, a politician, feminist and human rights activist that served as a city councillor of the Municipal Chamber of Rio de Janeiro for the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) in 2008. Malunguinho created Aparelha Luzia, a quilombo urbano and space that fosters artistic expression, centers Black cultural and political work, and is rooted in combating racism through social tourism in quilombos and indigenous territories as a strategy to fight discrimination and advocate for the protection and visibility of minorities, as well as promote a sustainable economy. Follow her @ericamalunguinho and @aparelhaluzia.

9. Dennis deLeón, 1948-2009

Dennis deLeón was a human rights lawyer, HIV/AIDS activist and president of the Latino Commission on AIDS, which he grew from 2 to 45 people, collaborated with more than 380 organizations and translated HIV information into Spanish. DeLeón was human rights commissioner in 1986, and one of the first officials to openly talk about his HIV diagnosis in a 1993 New York Times op-ed.

10. Julio Salgado 

Julio Salgado is a queer undocumented visual artist fighting and creating awareness for DACA and DREAMers through his art. He’s the co-founder of DreamersAdrift.com and currently works as the migrant storytelling program manager at The Center for Cultural Power, a woman of color, artist-led organization at the intersection of art, culture and social justice that inspires artists to collectively imagine and work towards change. Follow them @juliosalgado83.

11. Walter Mercado, 1932-2019

Walter Mercado was a Puerto Rican astrologer, dancer, actor and writer, best known for his astrology segments, eccentric style, and his signature catchphrase, “y mucho mucho amor”. His androgynous look and unapologetic style of capes and jewelry on TV, made many queer youth and adults alike feel seen, and sometimes, even as a super hero, like activist Karlo Karlo says in the documentary of Walter’s life, “Mucho Mucho Amor” by Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch. His show was a lesson on boundless love, light and the stars.

Stephanie N. Stoddard Cortés

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