WASHINGTON — A group of LGBTQ Latino activists from across the country who participated in a virtual roundtable on Wednesday said the election results are a matter of “survival.” for their respective communities.
“As a trans person, these elections are critical for our survival,” said Maria Roman-Taylorson, vice president and chief operation officer of the TransLatin@ Coalition who is based in Los Angeles. “It’s not only the presidency, but our health is on the ballot. us living authentically is on the ballot.”
Roman-Taylorson spoke alongside National Center for Transgender Equality Deputy Executive Director Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen and URGE: Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity Executive Director Kimberly Inez McGuire during the panel that the Latino Institute, the Latino Equality Alliance, the Hispanic Federation, the Los Angeles Blade and Washington Blade sponsored.
Hispanic Federation Director of North Carolina and Mid-South Operations Daniel Valdez and Louie Ortiz-Fonseca, founder of Gran Varones, a project that documents issues through Black and Latino LGBTQ lenses, also participated in the round table.
Tony Lima, chief operating officer of Arianna’s Center, a South Florida-based organization that advocates on behalf of trans Latina women, was the moderator. Richard Zaldivar, founder and executive director of The Wall Las Memorias Project in Los Angeles, spoke at the end of the roundtable.
“The election in November will be the most important election of our lifetime, in the history of our nation,” said Zaldivar. “Either we can live with this authoritarian leadership of this president or we can raise our voice and objections to his bigotry, racism and defeat this dance with fascism that we are experiencing today.”
Lima, who is based in Miami, echoed Zaldivar.
“The queer and trans Latinx vote is the most important thing as Latinx people that we could be talking about right now,” said Lima. “We are at a moment where our lives absolutely depend on this coming election.”
Heng-Lehtinen, whose mother is former U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), among other things said President Trump “is really systematically trying to chip away at all of the health care access that we (trans people) have.” Roman-Taylorson in her remarks noted the White House reinstated the ban on openly trans servicemembers.
“Our lives are on the line here,” said Heng-Lehtinen.
Florida and North Carolina among the states that will likely determine the outcome of the presidential election. The panelists stressed state and local races are equally as important.
McGuire noted state legislatures in recent years have sought to restrict access to abortion, implement anti-LGBTQ sex education curricula and pass religious freedom bills and other measures that discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“We all want justice at home, which means if you are queer, if you are trans, if you are an immigrant, you should not have to feel like your home is a hostile place,” said McGuire.
“We have seen our Latinx and immigrant communities vilified, our trans and queer communities used as scapegoats to win elections,” he said. “We have the opportunity to change that in this upcoming election to let them know that kind of divisiveness is not going to work.”
“We also need to send a clear message to our elected officials that our country cannot roll back civil right protections to our queer community, to our immigrant communities,” added Valdez. “That message starts on Nov. 3.”
This election cycle is taking place against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 people in the U.S. and has highlighted long-standing economic disparities. The nationwide protest movement against police brutality that began in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and the epidemic of violence against trans women in Puerto Rico and throughout the country are two of the other issues the panelists discussed.
“If there’s anything that 2020 has taught me, it is that we are the ones who are legitimately and literally going to swim out into the ocean to save ourselves. And that requires communication,” said Ortiz-Fonseca. “It’s going to require us to have deeper and more intentional conversations with our community as opposed to us just talking to them and demanding that they do something.”