Stones that speak

National Coming Out Day and one Affiliate’s monument to advocacy

By John Marth, Content Manager, UnidosUS

Walking through Lincoln Park in East LA, it’s hard to miss the 10,000-square-foot monument in the shape of Quetzalcoatl. The steel archway, and the curved pathways featuring six murals from local artists form the Aztec feathered serpent, a symbol for rebirth. Two large stone panels have hundreds of names engraved on them—the names of people lost to AIDS.

UnidosUS Affiliate The Wall-Las Memorias dedicated the monument in 2004 at the site of where community members gathered in 1993 to mourn those lost to HIV and AIDS, and to mobilize to end the stigma of HIV/AIDS among Latinos. It’s the first publicly funded HIV/AIDS monument in the country.

The people at that first meeting needed a public symbol to show that they were unashamed and unafraid to talk about the crisis that was affecting them and the people they loved. Now, The Wall-Las Memorias has become a community health and wellness organization that helps the underserved, specifically Latinos and LGBTQ people.

Their fantastic work, both to help people through education, and to help whole communities better understand the AIDS crisis, led to The Wall-Las Memorias being recognized as the UnidosUS Affiliate LGBTQ Champion Award at our Annual Conference in August.

For National Coming Out Day, we want to recognize the power that both people and organizations can have in making the country more welcoming, and encouraging LGBTQ people to live proudly and openly.

Pedro’s generation

Every October 11, National Coming Out Day celebrates the simple but powerful activism that exists in being openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or queer. To dismantle the homophobia that thrives in silence and ignorance, showing people that they know people who are LGBTQ can lead to acceptance.

The power of representation can be between friends and family members, but also through the media. For a lot of Gen-Xers, Pedro Zamora chronicling his life on the San Francisco season of The Real World was the first time they’d seen a gay person on television, let alone a person living with HIV. For a whole American generation, a Latinx man was the embodiment of living proudly and openly.

Zamora was committed to educating people about HIV and AIDS; he was an advocate even before being cast on the show. His fearless advocacy was a new kind of representation for LGBTQ people on television and in movies, who even to this day are often portrayed as sad and tragic victims.

Zamora’s legacy is felt throughout the LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS advocacy worlds, and is the first name shown in a video produced by The Wall-Las Memorias.

Welcoming LGBTQ youth

Recent community event The Wall-Las Memorias hosted at their Highland Park office.

The Wall-Las Memorias was spotlighted this week at the UnidosUS Fall Affiliate Convening, a two-day summit where Affiliates come together, share stories from their work, learn from each other, and are updated on policy efforts from UnidosUS staff. The first day of the session ended with a reception at the monument.

For Washington Navarrete, UnidosUS education leadership program manager, the memorial, which is located close to his old high school, was an eye-opener: “We tend to make assumptions about Latinos and what we do or don’t think about the LGBTQ community, and to see something like this, in East LA, in one of the most historic parks, was just sort of mind-blowing.”

Navarrete was at the Affiliate convening to lead a session about our ALAS Tool Kit: Welcoming LGBTQ Youth. The tool kit features tools and information to help youth-serving programs and organizations better welcome LGBTQ clients. The tool kit was released in June to commemorate Pride Month and was featured in a session at our Annual Conference in August.

At this Affiliate-focused workshop, the audience was thrilled to have a resource to help them make an environment as welcoming as possible. Navarrete recalls, “After [the session] some Affiliates came up and said ‘This is just what we need. We’ve needed to dive into stuff like this, but we just don’t know how.’”

The tool kit is free on the UnidosUS website for anybody who wants to learn how to better welcome LGBTQ youth into their spaces.

Noche de las memorias

The Wall-Las Memorias has impacted millions of people with services like HIV prevention and management, substance abuse assistance, and LGBTQ-related services in the LA area. We’ll cover more about that next week on the UnidosUS Blog.

There’s room for up to 8,000 names on the monument in Lincoln Park. Names are added once a year on December 1, World AIDS Day, in a ceremony called Noche de las memorias, or A Night of Memories. You can submit a name to be added on The Wall-Las Memorias’s website.

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