“Queer Brown Voices”: a monumental account, through personal narratives, of the experiences of LGBTQ people of color

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Authors or Editors: Uriel Quesada, Letita Gomez, Salvador Vidal-Ortiz
Title, Subtitle: Queer Brown Voices: Personal Narratives of Latina/o LGBT Activism
Publication date 2015
ISBN ISBN 978-1-4773-0232-3
Publication: Austin: University of Texas Press, 238 pages, paper, roman preface, indexed
Link: Publisher


Queer Brown Voices”, edited by Uriel Quesada, Letita Gomez, and Salvador Vidal-Ortiz, is a valuable historical anthology of the LGBTQ experience of Latinos.

The book comprises an Introduction by Vidal-Ortiz (after a Preface by Gomez), fourteen chapters by various authors, and a conclusion by Quesada.  Six of the chapters are direct first-person narratives, and eight more were rewritten from interviews (some of them originally done in Spanish).  The editors stress that first-person narratives are quite valuable in preserving the nuances of history for posterity, something I have experienced in my own “Do Ask Do Tell” series.

The other contributors include Luz Guerra, Dennis Medina, Jesus Chairez, Laura M. Esquivel, Brad Veloz, David Acosta, Letita Gomez, Mona Noriega, Gloria M. Ramirez, Moises Agosto-Rosario, Jose Guitierrez, Olga Orraca Paredes, Wilfred W. Labiosa, and Adela Vazquez.

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I could say that the book is anchored on the idea of “identity politics”.  Yet the very concept is a moral duality:  an individual’s sense of belonging to a group localizes that person’s ability to develop direct empathy for others and learn to help other people, and to make all lives in his or her cohort “matter”.  Yet, for most of my own adult life, I have thought as a strict individualist, and had little interest in adjusting my own positions according to the margins of the groups I belong to.

Let me jump ahead here for a moment to the readings from the book late Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016, at OutWrite DC at the DC Center in Washington DC. (link).  Quesada was replaced by contributors Esquivel, Agosto-Rosario , and Gutierrez.  Gomez made one of the most interesting presentations, maintaining that many of the “dreamers” fighting for Obama’s preferred policy for long-standing undocumented immigrants, are members of the LGBTQ community. The book stresses that most of the time, until more recently, gay rights (whether “liberation” or the later “equality”) has lived under the penumbra of white male values (which often curiously mirror those of white male heterosexual society of the past, valuing appearances, gender conformity, personal success, and power. To some extent, many of us recognize “queer” as meaning somewhat an abnegation of white male culture (like in the “Divergent” movie series, as a hyperbole). Of course Latino gays had to weigh discrimination for both reasons of “queerness” as well as “brownness” and Spanish-speaking.

Many of the pieces are interesting to me as comparison to my own life in Texas (Dallas), from 1979-1988.

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Medina (mostly Houston) mentions the case Morales v. Texas, which pretty much stopped the Texas sodomy law 21.06 in the 1990s (details), although this was in the news after I left.  But Chairrez describes life in Dallas in the 1980s, depicting anti-Latino bias of which I was little aware at the time.  He mentions the 1982 Baker v. Wade sodomy case, and says Baker had little interest in Latino perspective. He mentions Latinos denied admission to gay bars, which I was not aware of.  He also presents the Dallas Gay Alliance (later to include the word “Lesbian”) as indifferent, too.

I recall the area around Cedar Springs and Throckmorton St. well.  In those days, the main bars were JR’s, the TMC (now moved, replaced by Suellens). The Village Station (the largest disco, now replaced by S4), and the Roundup (previously Magnolia’s).  The Crossroad’s Market was operated by DGA chiefs Bill Nelson and Terry Tebedo, with an incredibly friendly store cat, Gracie.  Police harassment in the gay bars had gone on in 1980, where police would make false charges of “public lewdness”, which only stopped when one of the defendants, a (white) computer operator from Plano, was acquitted in early 1981.  True, the population seemed largely white.  Men with Latino names sometimes were as white as me, and spoke without accents, and experienced no racial issues (European descendants from Spain were common in Texas.)  .  But I agree, that non-Caucasian Latinos were not very visible or welcome. Today, it is more common for clubs in many cities to have nights or dances that emphasize specific minority populations, although I tend to prefer to go when the expected audiences are as broad as possible.

When I worked for Census briefly in 2010-2011, the “Hispanic” category was self-identified and not treated as “race”.  It was possible to self-identify as both Hispanic and white (Caucasian) which is very common.

The book presents the slow-motion advance of AIDS, about a year later than on the coasts, and the buddy programs (in Dallas, run by the Oak Lawn Counseling Center).  It doesn’t mention that in 1983, the political arm of the Dallas Gay Alliance fought off a very draconian attempt by the right wing in Texas to strengthen the sodomy law with HR2138, capitalizing on public panic over gay men before HIV could be identified by medicine. The bill would have banned gays from most licensed occupations, let alone the military, on supposed “public health” grounds.

The book compares the communities in various cities.  I was familiar with the community in Montrose in Houston (which had to fight off “The Straight Slate”) and a smaller community in Austin.  But one of the largest discos in the state was the Bonham Exchange, near the Alamo in San Antonio.

In the last chapter, Vazquez talks about the anti-gay policies in Castro’s Cuba (as related by Julia Schnabel’s 2000 film “Before Night Falls” about Reinaldo Arenas played by Javier Bardem).  Many of the refugees from the Mariel boat-lift from Cuba in 1980 were gay. Vazquez does talk about the now forgotten crisis over housing them, with desperate pleas in gay churches (like MCC Dallas) for members to open up spare bedrooms.  Today, the “refugiados Cubanos” event more closely mirrors the asylum issue today (for people “stuck here”) than true refugees (as from Syria), not yet arrived – an issue that got mentioned over the weekend by the DC Center (which as a group called Center Global).

The panelists noted the slowness with which the media noted that the Pulse club in Orlando had served largely a Latino population, which could have made the people a target of hate.

Clips from the readings:

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(Published: Tuesday, August 9, 2016 at 9:45 PM EDT)

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