Jorge G.

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.

Jorge Gutierrez
Los Angeles, CA
He, Him

Roman Agustin

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.

Roman Beltran
Agustin Gaytan
Santa Ana, CA
He, Him



Johann O.

In 1999, my family returned home to an eviction notice tacked on our front door. It was a terrifying time for my family to not know what would happen next, where we would live, how we would get by. After emigrating from the Philippines, my single mother was already working graveyard shifts to support her three children on low income, and in one moment, she and we were faced with the possibility of homelessness. My hopes and dreams were to become successful so that my family no longer had to suffer and so we could free ourselves from financial struggle. But growing up, I began to realize that there was something different about me. I was a gay Filipino boy living in Orange County with a conservative Catholic family, and I felt isolated. I was the only person to know that about myself, and I was afraid to tell anyone because I was fearful that I would be a disappointment. Truthfully, I just could not accept that part of myself. So I locked it away and thought that I could make it through without anyone having to know. And I did for quite some time. While I made my mother proud through my academic accomplishments, I continued to repress that part of me and it continued to create a deeper, darker void. As I proceeded to go above and beyond the expectations of the people around me—my friends, my teachers, my family, and especially my mother—I began to spiral into a world of depression. I was not true to myself. With all the insecurities I already had about my weight, my physical appearance, my voice, and other aspects of me, I ultimately did not like the idea that I could also be gay.

Many of my adversities have strongly influenced my career path. Now, as a young professional in the social work field experiencing day-to-day challenges with the clients I help, I have found my passion helping vulnerable and underserved communities. As a gay person of color, I am devoted to helping and empowering vulnerable individuals who experience issues with their LGBTQ+ identity, sexual health, mental health, homelessness, and substance misuse. I plan to continue a career that addresses these issues and empower minority populations, bringing forth the change they need, especially in the Asian-Pacific Islander and LGBTQ+ communities. Through my career as a social worker and my ongoing journey of learning about gay mental health, I have found my voice and I am learning what it means to be visible. I understand now that life is better when I’m being authentic to the people around me and, most importantly, being authentic to myself. Because of the adversities that I have overcome, I see myself as a strong, confident, and resilient individual. I have realized that my personal experiences can support the work I do with the populations I serve today, tomorrow, and in the future.

Johann Ortiz
He, Him
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.

Steven Duncan Sass
Huntington Beach, California

Nam N.

I was born in Vietnam and came to the U.S. when I was sixteen as an immigrant. Being an immigrant I was often undermined and underestimated in my ability to obtain a higher education. Overcoming the language barrier proved a challenge to adjusting to my new life in America. My high school counselor advised me not to take the SAT because she thought I would fail university classes. My aunt told me to avoid AP classes and aim for community college instead. The only person who believed in my ability was my gay uncle, the first person I came out to. He mentored me through the process of gaining my new identity as a gay American. With his support, I applied and was accepted to the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB). At UCSB, I started to get involved in queer organizations and learned more about the history of the LGBT in the U.S. Throughout the four years of college, I was assimilating into American culture. It was the time of my life that I began to understand what it means to be an American.
After college, I moved to Orange County with my mom. In the quest to find my own community, I found Vietnamese Rainbow of Orange County (VROC) and became the secretary. VROC fights for the rights of Vietnamese LGBT and spreads our visibility in Orange County. In 2013, LGBT people were barred from marching in the Vietnamese annual New Year festival in Westminster, California on the assumption that being gay is not a part of Vietnamese culture. We worked hard for our rights to march and successfully turned the decision around. Ever since then, I have been marching with VROC for the Tet parade. VROC was a second family to me. All these years, VROC had nurtured me to grow up in this post-college chapter of my life. For the first time, I once again realized what it means to be a Vietnamese American. Through learning and sharing our stories, I learned that our experience is different from other Americans and also other Asian Americans. Furthermore, being an LGBT person adds more to the complexity of our American identities. In the end, I cannot be happier than to be a proud gay Vietnamese American.
Currently, I am a Ph.D. student at the University of California Irvine studying genetics. Being a scientist is not something that is associated with the LGBT. None of my VROC fellows are in the science field. A lot of time I did not feel related professionally with my VROC family. On the other hand, I am the only gay Vietnamese person in my science community. My mom even pointed out that science is a career for white people. Despite the lack of role model, I applied for grad school and became a scientist. I was very happy that I chose something which is authentically me as I am passionate about science and discoveries.
It is a stereotype that neither Vietnamese nor gay people are involved in science. In fact, I have met LGBT individuals as well as some Vietnamese fellows at my Ph.D. program. I believe there are many LGBT individuals working in the science field who are not visible. LGBT visibility in science disregards the stereotype that LGBT individuals are not contributing to science. Despite being unique, I am visible and carry my own voice for each community that I live in or work for. I am proud to be counted as a gay Vietnamese American scientist. I will continue to work for the voices and the visibility of my own people.
Nam Nguyen
He, Him
Fountain Valley, CA

Peterson P.

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”.
Peterson Pham
Garden Grove, Orange County, CA

Justin M.

“I wasn’t out as a gay youth growing up in Orange County. I struggled with my identity in the context of my Evangelical upbringing at the same time I faced hostility by some peers in my public school because of my perceived orientation. There was little visibility of LGBTQ people in the community, especially adults whom I could look up to and aspire to be like. My future seemed bleak because I didn’t know what a happy, fulfilled life could look like for someone like me.

As an adult, it’s been healing to live as proud gay man in the very context I grew up but with various supportive communities that value diversity. From my work with the LGBT Center OC, to singing with Men Alive – The OC Gay Men’s Chorus to progressive political advocacy, I’ve gotten to know so many incredible people fighting for inclusion and representing the beautiful diversity that exists here in Orange County. We may not have as centralized of an LGBTQ community as some urban areas, but we are making progress and we are strong together.

Being authentic is critical to living your best possible life. It also is essential to forming strong, connected communities and paving the way for LGBTQ youth who hopefully will have it even a little better than we do now. We have the power to constantly progress and constantly make our world better. That starts with being honest and authentic.

We must be visible, and we must be counted. The more we are seen and our stories are heard, the more comfortable future generations will be in sharing their truths. Furthermore, our stories impact policies and decision-making that affect us now and for years to come. The needs of our LGBTQ community must be considered and the number of lives impacted by disparities in health and well-being must be understood.”

Justin Massey
Aliso Viejo, CA

Jose C.

Becoming who I am today was never an easy journey. I chose to fight for my right to be me, an openly Queer Brown Chicano, and I have never turned back. Being a queer person of color or QPOC in a conservative Catholic home meant that I never felt much at home growing up. I looked for home in dark and colorful dance clubs late into the morning and in faraway cities, but ultimately I learned that I needed to challenge my family to open up to my queer identity and friends. I challenged my family’s homophobic and heteronormative views, and I resisted pressures to stay silent in difficult situations when I knew my voice was needed the most. Being authentically queer and a visibly Brown person of color means that I choose not to shy away from uncomfortable conversations on recognizing the need for affordable queer & trans housing, mental healthcare services, and good jobs in inclusive workplaces. I hope to ensure that future generations of queer and trans people of color don’t have to face the same issues I have. They deserve better. That’s why I’m running as the first openly Queer Millennial of Color in Fullerton City Council in 2020.
My message to future generations, especially queer and trans youth of color, is that no matter how dark things might be, you are the light. You deserve peace, love, and joy.
Wish you were Queer,
Jose Trinidad Castaneda
Fullerton, CA

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