In the early afternoon of Saturday, June 30, in a convention hall full of spirited, opinionated Latino community activists in central
Florida, my excellent social justice journey came to an end. At the League of United Latin American Citizens’ national
assembly, a resolution supporting same-sex marriage passed quietly among 19 other proposals that sought the members'
affirmation. The passage of this important gesture of support for Lesbian and Gay couples was a goal planned seven years
ago in Dallas, as Texas was set to pass a statewide constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
A lot of talk, partnership and work went into building this line of communication between the LGBT community and the oldest
and largest Hispanic civil rights organization in the United States. It didn’t happen overnight, but years of laying the foundation
of trust and cooperation. Prior to Texas passing its same-sex marriage ban in November 2005, members of the LGBT
community approached the national president of LULAC for help in defeating the amendment. We looked for some type of
message alerting Latino progressives to vote “No on Proposition 2.” Unfortunately, we had already missed an opportunity to
get an official stance by the organization because the national convention was just days away and we needed to have had
introduced a resolution at the local level per protocol to be considered for discussion and passage. The president did
encourage us to form our own council to “start the conversation.”
I don’t blame LULAC for not being able to move mountains overnight for the LGBT community. I thought about what overtures
of support to the Hispanic community did the LGBT community make in Texas prior to this meeting. Plus in 2005, the anti-gay
trifecta machine of Karl Rove/Dick Cheney/George W. Bush had just successfully used same-sex marriage amendments
during the November 2004 election as the perfect wedge issue to rile up the right-wing base and blast anyone in American
politics who sided with the LGBT community.
Although we were disappointed that we left without an endorsement, the LGBT community leaders were surprised that LULAC
would invite us to become part of the family – an openly Gay LULAC council that would advocated for LGBT rights within the
Hispanic civil rights organization. The idea of this council would take a back seat for a couple of months as the LGBT
community fought and lost the constitutional election. The vote, cast by only 17 percent of the state’s registered electorate, was
76 percent in favor of denying same-sex marriage in Texas.
Fast forward six months, members of the LGBT community were fired up about another issue: immigration. In Dallas, several
of us in the LGBT community who supported immigration reform participated in the Mega Marchas that were popping up
across the country that April. We did it because the LGBT community was looking out for its own immigrant members who
came to this country to avoid persecution and certain death for being an openly LGBT individual in their homeland. Plus, the
LGBT community saw that the same machine that promoted same-sex marriage bans was now setting its target on the
undocumented in the United States. Right-wing legislators were emboldened to bully another community that had very little
political power to defend itself (LGBT Americans are only 10 percent of the population, while 12 million undocumented citizens
have no voting rights. The Right-Wing Machine could pick on these communities and see no push back at the polls).
Those Mega Marchas not only served as a powerful of sign of support for immigrants in the United States, but it showed how a
coalition of communities (Hispanics, African-Americans, Asian Americans, Faith-Based, Unions, Progressive Anglos,
Feminists, and yes LGBT) can come together and work to protect its most vulnerable. I participated in the April 9, 2006, march
in downtown Dallas, which attracted half a million people -- the largest gathering of folks in the history of Texas. Among the
sea of white shirts and American flags (which was the recommended attire and symbols to show solidarity during that Palm
Sunday afternoon) were small pockets of people with rainbow signs and flags from the LGBT community. This show of
support from the LGBT community resurrected the idea for the “Gay LULAC Council.” Within days, longtime LULAC member
Ray de los Santos would visit the LGBT community and start the paperwork to initiate the first-ever LULAC Council that would
take on the mission of advocating for LGBT equality.
On the evening of June 12, 2006, in front of 55 members of the community, a council was inaugurated by the national LULAC
president in the Oak Lawn neighborhood, the heart of Dallas’ LGBT community, inside the Latino Gay Bar Havana. Council
4871 had signed up 15 members to its roster to initiate the paperwork to establish three weeks prior. An additional 25
members joined that night. Rather than having the conversation on day one about LGBT equality, our membership decided to
learn what issues the Hispanic community was facing and get involved. From education, immigration, civil liberties, hunger to
voting rights, Council 4871, which was commonly referred to as “Gay LULAC,” worked alongside its sister councils in North
Texas to better the condition of the community and walk a mile in its shoes.
It was not until the following year at the 2007 National LULAC Convention in Chicago that LGBT equality was formally
discussed. I got to sit on a panel to discuss minority issues within the Hispanic community. I was allotted 15 minutes to make
my case on LGBT equality in an hour session that also included a Hispanic disabled person and Hispanics of African descent.
After two years passed and the Gay LULAC Council, which was now referred to as LULAC 4871 – The Dallas Rainbow Council
(which was coined by my good friend and founding member Cesar Reyna), the membership was ready to start having those
conversation on LGBT equality. Enough time had passed that we were already accepted into the LULAC family.
The year 2008 was important for us. We not only won Dallas’ Council of the Year honors, which made us eligible for Texas’
LULAC Council of the Year award which we also got, but we passed a resolution to repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” - which barred
openly-Gay military members from serving in the Armed Forces. Thanks to the hard work of LULAC 4871 members Pepe
Johnson (who was kicked out of the Army in 2003 for being Gay) and Felix Arrieta (an Air Force reservist), we had those honest
talks with LULAC members, even presenting at the state convention.
Because this DADT repeal resolution passed at the district and state level, the resolution would go to the national convention.
Pepe, Felix and I attended the 2008 convention in Washington, D.C. That year, the U.S. Army was one of LULAC's main
convention sponsors. We were set to see our first LGBT win. But somehow during Election Day, when resolutions are passed,
our resolution was not read to the national membership. Pepe, who learned LULAC’s rules and parliamentary procedure,
quickly ran to the microphone and introduced the resolution off the floor. Felix and I lined up behind him to speak in favor of the
resolution. I never had to speak. A vote was called after Pepe spoke. Nearly all 800 members of the assembly voted in favor of
the resolution, thanks to an impassioned plea from Pepe.
In 2009, we went back to National LULAC Convention held in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where we introduced a resolution to
support the passage of the Employee Non Discrimination Act, federal legislation that would prohibit employment
discrimination based sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. This resolution was passed with great
margins at the district and state level. To ensure passage at the national convention, I made sure to be placed on the
resolutions committee to see this LGBT equality resolution get a fair shot and not be left out. When the ENDA resolution came
up for discussion in the committee, a LULAC elder asked “is this something that teaches kids to be Gay.” I was taken back
because this comment was so off the mark. I was ready to pounce. But luckily, the elder’s wife was there and she actually read
the resolution. She explained to him about its purpose and how this was a labor issue – something that LULAC is passionate
about. That ENDA resolution was grouped with other labor issues was passed without any discussion by a unanimous vote
on Election Day.
In 2010, the Rainbow Council had planned to work on a resolution supporting federal hate crimes legislation. But weeks after
the 2009 National Convention, a Democratic Congress passed a bill and President Barack Obama signed it into law -- the very
first federal legislation that mentions and protects the LGBT community, The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate
Crimes Prevention Act.
Our council in 2010 was not ready to take on Marriage Equality. Our membership felt we still needed to have more
conversations before taking on this big endeavor. Instead, we decided to promote the Uniting American Families Act, federal
legislation that would allow U.S. citizens to sponsor their foreign born partner just as straight couples are able to do so. Our
council went on the road (Dallas, Denton, Fort Worth, Plano, Austin and San Antonio) and had conversations with the LGBT
community about UAFA, Comprehensive Immigration Reform and The DREAM Act. We even presented at Creating Change in
Dallas. The pieces of legislation were received well and several LGBT organizations would formally endorse these
immigration bills. At LULAC, we framed the concept of same-sex couples as a family. Here is where my friend John Trevino
came into the picture and told his story about how his life with his Russian partner and how they are affected by lack of
protections. John’s personal story was shared at the state and national convention. We were ready to introduce a resolution in
support of UAFA, but we came to find out that National LULAC had already endorsed the measure. At the national convention
held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, we gave a great presentation about the subject, plus walked away with the coveted –
“National LULAC Council of the Year.” At the awards banquet, I thanked my LULAC family for accepting LGBT equality as part of
its civil rights struggle.
In 2011, LULAC 4871’s efforts were focused on school bullying due to the string of gay teen suicides in the fall of 2010. Our
council partnered with other LGBT organizations in Dallas and successfully passed a comprehensive anti-school bullying
code that not only protected LGBT kids, but kids who were of different faiths and ethnicities, plus immigrants, at the Dallas
Independent School District in November 2010. During this time, our council then took on the responsibility of mentoring a
group of high school students, which formed their own LULAC Youth Group. We were teaching tolerance and acceptance that
year to help usher in a new code of respect in schools. We shared our best practices with other LULAC councils at the national
convention in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Finally in 2012, the time had come. On May 9, President Barack Obama transformed the idea of same-sex marriage from a
wedge issue to a civil rights cause that more Americans could support. Within weeks, our sister civil rights organization – the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) – would pass a resolution supporting same-sex
marriage. Gay leaders within LULAC started buzzing about the need to replicate that support. The time was now. Within days I
drafted a resolution that was based on LULAC’s history of supporting LGBT equality, along with the same-sex marriage
support of civil rights icons like Dolores Huerta, Coretta Scott King and Al Sharpton. It was worded carefully in order to appeal
to widest possible audience. But a new LULAC member who started Houston’s very own LULAC LGBT Council, Edward
Sanchez, drafted an even more frank resolution that basically told it like it is: Denying Same-Sex Marriage Rights is Wrong.
Edward’s resolution was potent and received praise across the country via an email exchange that was generating lots of
comments of support from LGBT LULAC members and straight allies. After the resolution passed locally, Houston LULAC
LGBT Members who weren’t able to attend the Texas LULAC Convention passed the baton to the Dallas LULAC LGBT
Members who made sure it made it to the resolutions vote. It passed without any drama at the Texas LULAC Convention.
Within two weeks, this marriage equality resolution would be ratified at the National LULAC convention in Florida, fulfilling a
goal that many LGBT Latinos, including myself, worked so hard for. Thank you LULAC for being on the right side of history!
Here is the resolution in its entirety:
RESOLUTION SUPPORTING MARRIAGE EQUALITY
WHEREAS, LULAC is the nation’s largest and oldest Latino civil rights organization. Headquartered in Washington, DC, with
900 council around the United States and Puerto Rico, LULAC’s programs, services and advocacy address the most
important issues for Latinos, meeting critical needs of today and the future; and
WHEREAS, The Mission of LULAC includes the advancement of the economic condition and civil rights of the Hispanic
population of the United States; and
WHEREAS, All Americans are afforded equal protection under the law, by the 14th Amendment of our nation’s constitution, that
prohibits states from denying any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws; and
WHEREAS, The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit
of happiness; and
WHEREAS, Couples who are allowed to marry are afforded 1,138 benefits, rights, and protections on the basis of marital law
including access to social security survivor benefits, tax benefits, family and medical leave for domestic partners, continued
health coverage, hospital visitation rights and immigration protections; and
WHEREAS, Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) individuals in committed relationships are currently denied these
benefits, rights, and protections because of laws that deny marriage equality including the Defense of Marriage Act; and
WHEREAS, Texas LULAC has long welcomed GLBT individuals into our membership, including the first GLBT LULAC Council
in the nation created in Dallas in 2006; and
WHEREAS, LULAC National has recently supported President Barack Obama’s statement supporting marriage equality for
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that LULAC supports marriage equality for all Americans, including those in the GLBT
community, and opposes the denial of basic civil rights or acts of discrimination against any American and is consistent with
LULAC’s continuing advocacy for civil rights and protections guaranteed by the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Thank you, LULAC!
|A Civil Rights
By Jesse Garcia
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