Windy City Media Group Frontpage News

THE VOICE OF CHICAGO'S GAY, LESBIAN, BI, TRANS AND QUEER COMMUNITY SINCE 1985

home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2022-08-31
DOWNLOAD ISSUE
Donate

Sponsor
Sponsor

  WINDY CITY TIMES

Co-founder of LGBTQ Latinx organization reflects after decades of activism
by Max Lubbers
2021-10-12

This article shared 2105 times since Tue Oct 12, 2021
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email


When activist Julio Rodriguez was 5 years old, a teacher forced him to stand up in class and choose another name—maybe John, she suggested, since people couldn't pronounce "Julio." By the time he got home, he had become "Peter." When he told his family to make the change, his father—Julio Sr.—was the only one to refuse.

"It was this sense of, 'Let's pull you away from your family, your country of origin and homogenize you,'" the younger Rodriguez recently told Windy City Times. "Even though I didn't know it at the time, I recognized in some way that this was the beginning of people trying to put a wedge between me and who I was."

Within that first week of school, Rodriguez lost his first name and quickly realized it wasn't safe to tell people he was gay, either. It would be decades until he made the switch back to "Julio" and started living fully by celebrating himself as a Puerto Rican gay man, he said.

But these early moments of injustice stayed with him. Rodriguez co-founded the Association of Latino Men for Action (ALMA) in 1989—an organization that modified its name to Association of Latino/as Motivating Action in 2012 to better serve and represent a broader constituency. As such, Rodriguez has participated in numerous community actions, advocating on issues ranging from HIV/AIDS funding to marriage equality.

By the time of ALMA's founding, the Latinx LGBTQ+ community needed action. Discrimination was rampant and the AIDS crisis was an ever-present challenge. Rodriguez watched many of his friends get sick and die. Society treated them as ghosts even before they were gone, he recalled.

"When I think about ALMA and the Latino LGBTQ movement, it was about fighting to be seen and heard," Rodriguez said. "It was not because we expected someone else to do it, but because we were going to do it."

From the start, Rodriguez wanted the organization to go beyond promoting social events—he wanted it to demand change. He has never stopped volunteering for ALMA, except for a brief stint working in Washington, D.C. that only affirmed how he wanted his footprint to be in Chicago.

"[Growing up], I didn't have people that I could turn to," he said. "I realized that I needed to come back to Chicago, because I had a responsibility to the kids like me."

Rodriguez said that as a child, he lived a chaotic life, brought on by institutional and structural failures. To protect himself, he learned how to stay invisible.

By the time he attended high school, none of his friends could even say where he lived. Prompted by his mother's schizophrenic episodes, Rodriguez's family had to move around nearly every year, and he didn't want anyone to know.

"She would come into my room and she would just sit at the end of my bed, and she would just say, 'You know, I love you. Don't forget; I'm lost, but I love you," he said, tearing up. "Those times were really hard because me and my family really had no one to turn to."

Rodriguez now understands how the stigma surrounding mental illness made it difficult for her to get help. He also can see how systems meant to supposedly help him actually perpetuated harm, he said. Toward the end of middle school, his father had to move out of their home, in part because people frequently called the police on them and it was dangerous to have him stay—Rodriguez said his family knew the officers would stereotype his father as a threat.

His junior year, he returned home one day to find his apartment in disarray. There was an eerie quiet that greeted him, a quiet that he'd never experienced before, he said. The silence broke when his neighbor told him his mom and sister had fled.

"I thought to myself, 'I don't know what's going to happen,'" he said. "But I'm not going back to the life I had."

Rodiguez said he stayed on the streets for about two days until he realized he could live in the back room of the Baskin-Robbins he managed. About six months later, he'd moved into his own apartment.

One day, on his way back to that apartment, he got on the bus—only to find his father driving it. He recalled how his father, with tears in his eyes, realized that Rodriguez had been forced to grow up and be independent before he reached adulthood.

He doesn't overgeneralize his experiences to his entire community, but Rodriguez said he's careful to acknowledge the history and policy behind his circumstances. Naming those issues of discrimination and working against them became his life's work.

Through his experiences, he said he wanted to make sure that other people wouldn't need to feel invisible, he said. He recalled one of the first times he felt truly seen, as he represented ALMA while marching in the Puerto Rican People's Parade. Behind him was a float with his dad; in front of him was a sign, proclaiming, "Association of Latino Men for Action," and in smaller text, "for homosexuals."

"It was about not being hidden, not being afraid to be my full self," he said. "I'm Puerto Rican and gay. I'm not just Puerto Rican. And I don't want to just be Puerto Rican."

Ever since then, he's made a point of emphasizing visibility with ALMA.

"That's what [ALMA]'s last couple of decades has really been about—not forgetting that we need to connect to people individually, but also remembering that we have to amplify their experiences in the broader context of the larger community," he said. "Otherwise, we just become footnotes in the history of the LGBTQ movement. We can't have another 30 years of just being a footnote."

Mona Noriega, who ran the queer Latina-focused organization Amigas Latinas for years and last year retired from her post heading the city's Commission on Human Relations, said that ALMA is unique. Not only has it lasted a long time—which is uncommon for a volunteer-run organization—but it changed to fit the needs of the community with its 2012 name change, she said.

"Without [Rodriguez], it would not last that long," Noriega said. "That's an absolute. He is the blood of the organization."

Rodriguez admitted he feels the weight of ALMA remaining one of the only LGBTQ+ Latinx-oriented nonprofits in Chicago. With COVID-19, immigration issues and violence threatening the LGBTQ+ Latinx community, he said spaces to come together and create progress are especially crucial.

"I've learned that my life is hanging in the balance," he said. "It's important for me to figure out: How do I get a new generation of leaders to have the same sense of urgency, as we did during the AIDS pandemic? Because I think we're back to a life-and-death situation."

At 62, Rodriguez has spent about half his life organizing with ALMA and nearly a whole lifetime thinking about these issues. But as he gets older, he said he realizes those issues don't disappear. And for as long as they continue, he said, all he can do is keep up the work.

"The future is knocking on our door," he said. "And we have to figure out what our answer is."


This article shared 2105 times since Tue Oct 12, 2021
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

  ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE

Gay News

AIDS Foundation Chicago holding Women's Connection Summit of Hope on Oct. 6 2022-09-27
-- From a press release - AIDS Foundation Chicago (AFC) is hosting a Women Connection Summit of Hope in partnership with the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) to address the needs of cis and transgender women who have been recently released from ...


Gay News

Howard Brown Health partners with Chicago Dancers United 2022-09-27
-- From a press release - Howard Brown Health and Chicago Dancers United (CDU) have announced a partnership to improve healthcare outcomes for local dance community members. Through the partnership, Howard Brown will be the go-to ...


Gay News

Molson Coors donates $50,000 to 14 LGBTQ+ organizations through annual Tap Into Change program 2022-09-27
- The beverage company Molson Coors presented $50,000 to 14 LGBTQ+ organizations at Sidetrack Sept. 26 as part of its 11th annual Tap Into Change program. Organizations partnered with local bars during the summer to raise money ...


Gay News

Palm Center to close permanently on Sept. 30 2022-09-26
- The Palm Center—an independent research institute that uses scholarship to inform the national conversation about military policy concerning LGBTQ+ service members—will close permanently on Sept. 30 after running for 24 ...


Gay News

Michelle Obama among those inducted into Women's Hall of Fame 2022-09-26
- Attorney/author/former First Lady and native Chicagoan Michelle Obama was among nine women celebrated on Sept. 23-25 as they were inducted into The National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York. Other inductees included science-fiction ...


Gay News

NATIONAL Veterans bill, Charlie Crist, Task Force honor, Elton John 2022-09-25
- California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation to assist LGBTQ+ veterans discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) in updating their records and accessing education, health, burial and other benefits available ...


Gay News

Center on Halsted makes senior staff hires in development, DEI and culinary arts programs 2022-09-22
-- From a press release - CHICAGO — Three senior hires have been added to Center on Halsted's staff recently. Brittany Terry was named senior director of diversity, equity, and inclusion/training services. Brad Snyder began work as chief development officer last month. ...


Gay News

Human Rights Campaign makes history with new president 2022-09-20
- The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRCF) announced that Kelley Robinson (she/her) will become the organization's ninth president—and the first Black, queer woman to lead the ...


Gay News

HRC Chicago dinner set for Nov. 12 2022-09-19
- The Human Rights Chicago (HRC) Dinner & Auction will take place Saturday, Nov. 12, at the Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park, 200 N. Columbus Dr., at 5:30 p.m., with the main program starting at 7 p.m. The ...


Gay News

AIDS organization honors actors Farrell, Ralph and Theron 2022-09-19
- On Sept. 15, The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF) honored actors Sheryl Lee Ralph, Charlize Theron and Colin Farrell with the Elizabeth Taylor Commitment to End AIDS Award at The Elizabeth Taylor Ball to End AIDS ...


Gay News

LGBTQ Victory Fund endorses Lightfoot 2022-09-18
- LGBTQ Victory Fund, the only national organization dedicated to electing LGBTQ+ leaders to public office, endorsed Lori Lightfoot for Chicago mayor. Since her historic victory in 2019, Lightfoot has remained the nation's highest-ranking out LGBTQ+ may ...


Gay News

Mayor Lightfoot to present awards at Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame induction ceremony 2022-09-15
-- From a press release - Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is scheduled to present awards to 14 individuals and organizations being inducted into The Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame on Oct. 11, at 6 p.m, at The Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. ...


Gay News

Illinois HIV Care Connect introduces its HIV and Aging Campaign 2022-09-15
- In advance of National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day on Sept. 18, Illinois HIV Care Connect has introduced its HIV and Aging Campaign. Persons aged 50 and older make up nearly half of persons living with ...


Gay News

ONE Archives names Tony Valenzuela as executive director 2022-09-14
- The Los Angeles-based ONE Archives Foundation announced that longtime LGBTQ+ activist and nonprofit leader Tony Valenzuela (he/him) has been named as its new executive director. Valenzuela is the first Latinx ...


Gay News

NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists names 2022-23 national board of directors 2022-09-12
-- From a press release - Washington, D.C. (Sunday, Sept. 11) — Today, NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists announced its 2022-2023 national board of directors. The newly elected directors were elected to their positions during ...


 



Copyright © 2022 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.

 
 

TRENDINGBREAKINGPHOTOS







Sponsor


 

Sponsor


Donate


About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam     
Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.