Letitia Gomez began her activist work in the late 70s as a student at the University of Texas. During that time, she says she began to notice the injustices around her. “Until I went to UT, I wasn’t really aware of some of the blatant discrimination and racism that had occurred in Texas against Mexican-Americans,” Gomez says. “And then when I came out as a young Chicana in Houston, in a predominately white gay community, I ran across discrimination even within the gay community. It was really about pushing back against that discrimination and invisibility to some extent.”
Then in 1987, only 10 days before the march on Washington for gay and lesbian rights, Gomez moved to Washington, D.C. Since then, she has served on the board of several organizations including ENLACE: DC Metropolitan Area Latino Gay & Lesbian Coalition, the Whitman-Walker Clinic, the National Lesbian and Gay Health Association, and the Latino Civil Rights Task Force. Most recently, Gomez is on the board of Many Voices, an organization that is working with African-American ministers to educate them about LGBT issues, and La Trenza Leadership, an organization that promotes education, self-esteem, and leadership for young Latinas. Gomez is also the co-chair and one of the founders of the National Latino/a Lesbian and Gay Organization (LLEGO).
On Friday March 29th, The Latino GLBT History Project (LHP), a D.C.-area organization that documents and archives the history of LGBT Latinos, honored Gomez at its second annual Women’s History Month celebration, ”Mujeres en el Movimiento.”
“I was very touched and honored. It’s the first time I’ve been recognized and honored by a group of mujeres Latinas, so that was very special to me,” Gomez says. “It was really great for me to see so many young women there.”
She says that one of the biggest challenges in her career has been raising money for the kind of activism she’s devoted herself to, which is mostly run with the help of volunteers. Recently, however, she says she has seen an improvement. “There’s more awareness among philanthropic organizations and even corporate America about supporting organizations that promote anti-discrimination,” Gomez says. “That’s made it easier for activists today, but it’s still a largely volunteer effort.”
Some of the challenges, she believes, are cultural as well as economic. “I may be totally wrong, but I think we haven’t taught our community about charitable giving. And the reality is that people live paycheck to paycheck and it makes it harder to spare the additional dollars for a charity.”
Gomez says that some of the major obstacles that LGBT Latinos face today are also largely economic. “Even with all of the great work that’s been done on marriage equality and immigration reform, I still think that for LGBT Latinos, there still might be economic inequity,” Gomez says. “There are still states and jurisdictions where we can be fired for being gay, and you could also be denied housing.”
In response to a recent study about the large number of same-sex households in her hometown of San Antonio, Gomez says, “I can imagine that there are barriers to living a full-out life in a state that doesn’t recognize their relationships and that might make it hard if you are an immigrant to be fully in the community and have some economic justice.” She points out that Latinos have high unemployment and that an LGBT identity might be an added barrier.
Though Gomez has been an LGBT activist for over 30 years now, she says her future goals are not limited to LGBT issues. “I’ve started to turn my attention to the plight of women in general. In my charitable giving, I include a number of women’s organizations, organizations that are not just helping women in the United States, but women around the world that are suffering poverty or violence,” Gomez says. “There’s still a lot of education we need to do not just here in this country, but all over the world about the value of women, and the need to respect women’s abilities, contributions, and intelligence.”
Erika L. Sánchez is a poet and writer living in Chicago. She is currently the sex and love advice columnist for Cosmopolitan for Latinas and a contributor for NBCLatino, The Huffington Post and other publications. She is a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship and the 2013 “Discovery”/Boston Review poetry prize. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, or www.erikalsanchez.com