A big part of Pride is paying tribute to the leaders, our elders and those who came before, who have dedicated themselves to the struggle for LGBTQ, and rightly so. It’s important to acknowledge that we stand upon the shoulders of giants.
But it’s also important to take notice of the young people who are rising among the next generation to take up the fight. Here are three young Angelenos who are making a difference in the social landscape of LGBTQ L.A., and who are surely among the faces to watch as we continue our march into the future.
The eldest is Robert Harrell, 30, a global diversity, equity, and inclusion strategist who has served as the Head of Talent/Talent Consultant at WORLDZ, and of leads diversity and inclusion efforts for LGBT Communities of Color at the Kenneth Roberts Agency. In 2015, he founded the I Love Me Foundation, a national organization that provides resources to LGBT survivors of sexual and domestic trauma. He currently serves as its president and chairman, and serves on several boards including the National Association of Black Journalists – LA Chapter and Venice Pride.
“My intention is to always be a liaison for the LGBT communities of color in both my professional and philanthropic efforts,” he says. “To champion for the overlooked, undervalued, and the underserved. To act as a conduit for the voiceless and the forgotten in my community.”
Harrell advocates for what he says are the most pressing issues facing our LGBT communities of color — hate crimes, homelessness, and mental health. He is vocal in the outcry over justice for the surging number of murders perpetrated against gay and transgender people of color, and he works to raise awareness about the devastating statistics around homelessness and LGBT youth, who are also disproportionately impacted by incarceration, sexual abuse, sex work and hate crimes.
To address the mental health care needs of LGBT communities of color, he and a team have launched, the #YouGoodMan Initiative, a program through his foundation designed to promote “mental health focus, inner calm and a chance to soul search” for gay men of color. In the fall of 2019, this program will officially launch to include an empowerment brunch, wellness weekend summit, and mental health workshops.
Also mobilized by social inequity is Jose Guevara, 25, an undocumented queer activist from California and a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient. Like so many other DACA recipients, his status is in limbo; with a husband who is a U.S. citizen, he’s part of a mixed-status family, as well, and he’s battled cancer four times. Yet he is currently finishing his commencement from CSULA and an internship through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, in which he serves as an intern in the Office of the Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and actively works to further his LGBTQ and immigration advocacy.
“Being queer, undocumented, and a cancer patient, I bring all of me to any place I step into,” he says. “In my life, I have had so many ends, and I’ve learned that somehow, someway, you just wake up every morning and keep going. I’ve learned that when you’re fighting for immigrants, you can’t just fight for immigrants. You have to remember queer people are also immigrants, so you have to fight for queer people too. And Queer people also get cancer, so you have to fight for people with illnesses. You have to fight for everyone.”
He is also moved by the violence against the trans population. “It breaks my heart to see how they are being killed every day, and other than trans focus groups their killings go without notice. We have failed our trans siblings, they are under constant attacks not only by the administration but by our failure to show up and show out for them… we must do better to help protect them with all our might.”
The youngest is Michaè Pulido, 22, a queer, trans, Latinx community connector, artist, and educator who works as the policy coordinator at the TransLatin@ Coalition, where she is working to change the landscape for trans-inclusive legislation, statewide and nationally. Navigating this world post-gender, Michaé says she sees the direct impact of a corrupt social, economic, and political system that hurts those that choose to not live abiding by the norm.
She says, “My personal mission is to uplift and support the trans, gender non-conforming, intersex community, and those that aren’t given voices and positions of power in our society. Doing this work, and being with TransLatin@, and being trans myself, I’ve seen the really beautiful parts of our community, and the really horrible parts, that people aren’t talking about. Right now is a really difficult time, because Neo-liberalism is convincing a lot of people that trans people have reached equity and equality within our society because we’re seen more in politics, in the media, in other spaces. But realistically, in everyday life, trans people are being murdered because there’s a lack of education about who we are; our community experiences high rates of unemployment and homelessness, and a lack of resources in general. So for me, it’s about working to change laws that disenfranchise our community.”
We asked each of these extraordinary young people what they hoped for the future of LGBTQ L.A. Here’s what they said:
Harrell: “What I wish most for the future of the LGBTQ communities of Los Angeles is for full equity and inclusion. West Hollywood has been long dubbed the LGBT capital of Los Angeles, yet most programs, clubs, special events, organizations, and resources are not inclusive of the Black, Latino, Armenian, Native American, and trans communities respectively. LGBT communities of color are priced out of affordable housing and special events, they’re not always included in statistical data that could lead to additional resources, and they’re not given same considerations for job opportunities as their LGBT white counterparts.”
Guevara: “I wish to see an aware LGBT community that understands intersectionality, and can have an honest and uncomfortable discourse on how we are all connected by being a part of the LGTBQ community but also different – by color, immigration status, ableness – and an understanding of the privilege some of us have. Most importantly, to use such privilege for change, to walk alongside folks who do not possess it, to create a better and more aware community that uplifts each other to create change.”
Pulido: “I hope for a world where our genders don’t matter, how we choose to identify doesn’t dictate our ability to be safe, and ultimately a world where we have access to things like housing and mental health resources, and we don’t have to turn to drugs as a way to cope. I know, within my lifetime, we’re going to carve out spaces for our community in Los Angeles, we’re already doing it and we’re only going to keep expanding. And for me, as a young person, a lot of my work is informed by trans elders that have been doing it a lot longer than I have, and paved a legacy for the generation that came after them, like me. That’s what I hope to do.”