I am Jorge Gutierrez, a queer, brown immigrant who was born in Nayarit, Mexico, and grew up in the Tustin and Santa Ana area in Orange County. I have been living in Los Angeles for over 6 years now. There is so much hateful and racist rhetoric and violence happening in the U.S. and across the globe but I am grateful that I get to run a national grassroots trans and queer Latinx organization, so I get to channel a lot of my anger and frustration into the organizing and advocacy work we do every day. But I also do lots of dancing, hang out with friends and family, and eat lots of tacos to find joy and celebrate who I am. Being authentic is so important, so needed, and truly a revolutionary act when you think about all the racism, discrimination, and violence folks are facing for being black, brown, trans, queer, undocumented, and so on. I think visibility can be a good thing but it’s also complex and tricky. Just because we see more trans people, queer people, and immigrants and more people from our particular communities in movies, music, and politics, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all of us are getting the same opportunities or have access to resources or power. I am interested in being visible and counted for the purpose of ensuring that all of us in our given and chosen communities have justice, freedom, opportunities, and joy to live our most authentic lives.
Being born gay in Guanajuato, known as one of the most religious and conservative states in Mexico, was a challenge. Part of our childhood for us was very normal, but once we started school, things changed. We were bullied by other students and nobody cared to do anything about it. We both knew that the way to get us out of there was through education.
We were neighbors as kids but we got together when we finally left for college. We were relieved leaving our hometowns behind, but the bullying did not stop, and in the new city as young adults we were also targeted by the police for being gay. After several encounters with the police, roommates, and classmates, we decided to leave Mexico and come to the land of freedom, the United States of America.
We landed in Orange County, one of the most conservative places in the country. We thought that things would be different, but the bullying and discrimination started all over again. We were rejected by the Latino community for being gay, and we were rejected by the Caucasian community for being Latino and gay. We did not want to keep running so when we were told we could not be a couple, get married, or get the same opportunities as other people, we decided to fight back. Not only for us but for
the new generations to come.
Our first major task was to come out of the closet and tell our siblings and parents about ourselves and our relationship. We realized that by hiding we were sending the wrong message to society. Our second task was to be visible in the community among relatives, friends, colleagues, and neighbors, so we got married and told everyone about it. Introducing ourselves as husband and husband was shocking for many, but we learned that one powerful tool to cause change is to accept ourselves and be proud of who we are. We encouraged people to start looking at us for our character and our actions, and not for how society wants to identify us.
We learned that acceptance does not happen overnight. It takes time, but we must start with ourselves. This helped our families, social circle, and later our Orange County community accept us as gay men and a same-sex couple.
We have continued working in the Orange County community. We co-founded an organization called Orange County Equality Coalition and became part of their Latino outreach committee. Later we were part of the Story Telling committee where we were able to share our stories as gay men. For years, we advocated to have a Latino presence in Orange County Pride festival, and through art, we volunteered for El Centro Cultural de Mexico and Gay Neighbors, Families and Friends of Santa Ana. We create art with an LGBTQ and Mexican theme. We participate in Day of the Dead festivals by building altars honoring victims of hate crimes and speaking to audiences about such crimes. We know it is important to give visibility and a voice to those whom society tried to silence. We hope that this visibility can prevent our younger generations of LGBT and minority people from going through what we went through while we were trying to be ourselves.
Santa Ana, CA
Being a gay man in Orange County has presented me with a number of challenges in my life. Elementary and middle school were some of my hardest times. I was bullied so badly that I had to change schools because the administration refused to do anything. I was kicked, spat on, shoved, and emotionally abused simply because I was different. Throughout my life I have learned how to become resilient and ambitious, but best of all I learned how to be compassionate. I have compassion for the boys who made me scared to go to school, I have compassion for the man that sexually assaulted me, and I have compassion for the people that told me I was going to hell because I love another man. However, I do have to acknowledge that the privilege that I was born with has made my life easier than for most of our community. And I am extremely fortunate and grateful to have a supportive and loving family that has seen me through so many battles. Thankfully, now I have found a community that I fit into and that supports me.
Theater has been my life and escape for 15 years now. In theater I no longer have to worry about hiding who I am. In fact, it is necessary to be myself because one has to bring a little bit of oneself to a character. My entire life is based upon being authentic, and I am a much better person because of it. I learned early on in life that people can be scared of your authenticity, and if they can’t or won’t handle it, they aren’t worth your time. The people who love your authenticity will always be there for you, no matter what. When you are truly authentic, you are visible, and when you are visible, you are free.
When I was a child growing up, I would lay in bed asking for some higher power to simply let me be “normal”. I had many challenges, expectations, and pressures that came together to make my life experiences different from peers around me. I was seen as just that: different. As a result, I was bullied growing up in Orange County, for my name, my ethnicity, my race, my sexuality, my gender. For a very long time, I felt like I was torn and was told that this broken person did not belong here. I spent a majority of my adolescence surviving with the intention to run away, and when I had a chance to leave for college, I wanted to stay away for as long as I could to avoid the place that reminded me of being hurt. I did not have hope that Orange County, my home, would be a safe space that would or could nurture me and allow me grow.
When I was forced to come back to Orange County and to face my fears, I was prepared to find and to carve a space for myself while hoping to meet other people who had similar experiences like me. I returned from college equipped with lessons and experiences of self-agency, self-worth, and self-care. The more I searched, the more I found that I was not alone in my experiences: I discovered my community and my family in Viet Rainbow of Orange County. Through VROC, I was able to relearn that my backyard can be and has been a safe haven for queer people of color and that we as queer members of the Vietnamese diaspora all deserved to be fairly and equality treated, to be thriving, to be visible, and to be counted. I was given a chance to be me, a second generation Vietnamese American person who identifies as queer and gender-fluid, and more.
I work as a clinical social worker now, supporting people who survived through traumas and have challenges with their lived realities. I was asked at work “What would you like to be famous for?” during a meeting, and I shared that I wanted to be known for being “apologetically, authentically me”. In wanting to not be seen as different, I tried to mold myself to fit to the expectations given to me and expected of me. I did not want to inconvenience others and to make the people around me feel comfortable. In giving myself permission to accept the decisions, actions, and behaviors that made me quirky, queer, me, I became comfortable with and true to myself. Different is good, special, and real; for me to celebrate my uniqueness is to accept that I am capable of being all that is me.
I learned that pain and loneliness does not always need to stay a negative feeling, but can lead to experiences that are honest and freeing. In standing up, I am vulnerable, but I can also be seen and be pinpointed as a person who is contributing to a movement that is larger than my life and beyond myself. I work towards creating change because my personal is political, professional, powerful, and precious. VROC’s slogan is “We, as a community are not complete without each other”, and this is a message that I am faithful to. Today, I am happy to be visible and to be counted as me: proudly queer and anything but “normal”.
The experiences I have had a gay person of color have mainly been stereotypes and name-calling. Growing up I had to deal with people outside of the LGBTQ community and their views of what gay is or should be. Being a gay African-American male growing up in Los Angeles I figured it was normal to be called names and pointed at because I was different than most.
Coming out in high school forced me to be my authentic self. I knew that I would need to be thick-skinned and be the only person I could be, while acknowledging I am more than a gay black male. Staying true to myself made high school fun as well as the following years of my life. I have not had any horrible experiences of gay-bashing or acts of hate. I have stayed true to who I am and that is something I live by to this day.
As an adult, my experience has been that people have wanted to place me in a box, so that they could feel comfortable. Now in my work life sometimes I feel that I have to include “gay” in my introduction, because there’s always that one person that needs to know, “Are you gay?”
“Be Visible, Be Counted” means to me that you’re living your authentic life. Be aware of who you are and stand strong. Never allow a person to dim your light. Show the world that you are more than the labels society puts on you. Stand strong in who you are.
Being an openly bisexual man is a challenge. Bisexuality often goes invisible as it is, with bisexual individuals typically passing for being either homosexual or heterosexual. Breaking that binary mentality means challenging the status quo. I do not always tell people that I am bisexual unless it comes up or is important to a conversation. I feel empowered as a man when I tell others that I am bisexual. I feel that it challenges ideas of how men are expected or allowed to interact in society.
Growing up, I did not know any openly bisexual men. Therefore, I was reluctant to be more open about my sexuality. As an adult, I strive to be more open about my sexuality because it opens dialogue and can help break down myths. I wholeheartedly agree with Harvey Milk’s sentiment that Queer people should come out if they are safe and able because the simple act of being visible and accounted for empowers society to be more loving and accepting.