Honoring Heroes

GLBT Hispanic Heritage Month kicks off with reception and exhibit at The Center

Despite the fact that José Gutierrez is one of Washington’s prominent gay, Latino activists, he says he has never received an invitation to take part in any of the city’s events organized to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, which kicks off in mid-September and runs through mid-October.

”Straight people sometimes have the tendency to forget the names of our community — the LGBT community,” Gutierrez, a 45-year-old native of Mexico who came to the United States in 1982, says of the larger Latino community in metropolitan Washington.

”It’s like we don’t exist for them. …They have special events, parades, fiestas, and we are excluded or not invited to be at the table.”

That’s why Gutierrez, whose local activism dates back to the 1993 March on Washington, worked with other activists comprising the Latino GLBT History Project, The Center, as well as other groups, including Latin@s en Acción, and launched his own event, GLBT Hispanic Heritage Month, last year.

”In order to recognize and celebrate our heroes, we needed to do it ourselves,” Gutierrez says, adding that 2006′s inaugural reception attracted more than 150 people. This year’s event will again be held at The Center, located at 14th and L Streets NW. The reception begins at 6 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 14.

Following tradition, Gutierrez says six members of the gay-Latino community will be honored for their contributions throughout the years.

The 2007 honorees include Mario Acosta-Vélez, president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club; Yajaira Arreaza, a 58-year-old real-estate agent who previously worked as a case manager for Whitman-Walker Clinic in Northern Virginia, among her other efforts with various HIV/AIDS organizations; transgender activist Ruby Corado; local drag performer Enrique Molina Flores, who performs as Victoria Armani; Jose Ucles, who’s involved with Washington’s leather community; and local lesbian Eva Young, who is being honored for offering language-barrier-breaking workshops during the past several years.

Flores, 43, says he is honored for being recognized by the committee and that he hopes other people participate in Hispanic Heritage Month.

”With unity and power we can make our dreams come true,” he says. ”Everybody who wants to work with the Latino community is welcome to join because we are like a family. We encourage other communities to work hard to make their dreams come true.”

Flores, who has been performing in Washington since 1994, says he recently took a break from the glamour and glitz, but adds that he is now talking with other members of the drag community to plan a Latino beauty pageant in D.C.

”We want to open the doors for a new talent, for people who want to be female impersonators or be in pageants, because right now we don’t have any events,” says Flores.

The heritage celebration does not end with the reception. Following last year’s form, organizers will present a month-long exhibit including photographs, posters, books and other memorabilia that document GLBT-Latino history of the past two decades.

Of special interest will be artifacts collected through LLEGÓ, a national, D.C.-based organization for GLBT Latinos that closed in 2004. It was at LLEGÓ, in the early ’90s, that Gutierrez first met the people whom he would later call role models, those who ”planted in me the seeds to my activist work,” he says.

Since the initial event in 2006, Gutierrez says he has gotten e-mails from people across the United States who want to visit the exhibit. Volunteers from the Peace Corps also reached out to Gutierrez and will be helping at this year’s event.

”I think the message that we want to give is that Latinos have been participating in the development of gay rights and human rights for years. Our brothers and sisters have been very active, [but] sometimes history erases our names. We want to be sure that our people will be remembered.”

For more information about the GLBT Hispanic Heritage Month exhibit, visit www.thedccenter.org.

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