By Annika Darling, CTLatinoNews.com
Connecticut has proven to be one of the most supportive states in the country for the LGTBQ community. This Pride Month, the state celebrates the diverse community on many fronts and in many different ways.
But Connecticut’s current reputation, as a state of acceptance and inclusion, didn’t come, and wouldn’t be, without leaders who stepped out and pushed for it, without a community that embraced it and without a continued and concerted effort. Many of these leaders have been Latino.
Latino LGTBQ Leaders
Former Connecticut State House member Joseph Grabarz was the keynote speaker at a Pride flag-raising event in Bridgeport last week. Grabarz is noted for being Connecticut’s first state legislator ever to come out as gay. He came out at a press conference at the State Capitol in 1990 that gained national attention at a time when few openly gay elected officials discussed their private lives. Grabarz served in the Connecticut House of Representatives from 1989 to 1993.
“Connecticut has become a place that appreciates tolerance. It’s a good reason for living here and why I’m proud of it.”Joe Grabarz, former state legislator from Bridgeport
Charlie Ortiz, first gentleman of Hartford, married to Pedro Segarra first gay mayor of Hartford, couldn’t agree more. He says, “I’ve been in Hartford since 2000, and I love the city because I feel like there is a sense of community and people are more understanding [of the LGTBQ community] then in Miami, where I came from and Puerto Rico. It was a different culture in all those places. So, this is more embracing and [LGTBQ] people can be free here, not worried about being harassed or things like that.”
Ortiz and partner Segarra have been on the frontline for the LGTBQ community for a long time and have experience crossing thresholds in the battle for LGBTQ civil rights.
Oritz started working with Connecticut Latinas/os Achieving Rights and Opportunities (CLARO) since he was in university, studying both law and social work. He helped write bylaws and was a part of Love for Family, which is partly responsible for many of the rights that the LGTBQ community in Connecticut enjoys today.
Ortiz’s partner, Segarra, came to Hartford at the age of 15. Ortiz recalls, “Everywhere he went he was always the activist saying, ‘I’m gay. This is who I am.’ And then when he got into politics, he thought that was going to be a big issue, and it wasn’t. Under his Corporation Council, he was able to do the same-sex partnership, where if you have a partner and you wanted to be on their insurance the city would allow you to do it. It since has changed to marriage equality but we are very involved in all of that stuff.”
There have been others, many other leaders that helped shape the climate of acceptance and diversity that the citizens of the state of Connecticut enjoy today. However, Ortiz is keenly aware of the delicate nature of such rights and says that “they can be taken away the same way they were given to us.” His main concern is the youths’ lack of involvement and is constantly looking for ways to engage the younger generation.
He explains, “I find it very interesting, as we continue to advocate for our community that youth nowadays don’t tend to. I won’t use the word ‘care’ because I know they do, but I know that I always try to be on the frontline on things because I know that it can be taken away from me at any time. The people before me paved the way for me to have what I have today. The youth are so comfortable, and I say this because when I try to engage the youth, when I go to high schools and do talks at universities, I find that they feel it’s not important for them to be involved in anything where they have to fight for civil rights because we already got marriage equality, we got this and we got that and everything is OK, and they don’t see the importance of it. But I say, ‘Wait a minute did you know the same way this was given to us it can be taken away?’ And that is a scary moment to me. I find that it could be very dangerous when you don’t get that support. I know that when we need to scream you see the support but it’s important to keep that support present. When I talk to [youth] I ask, ‘Are you involved in any community non-profits like GLAD or things like that?’ And they aren’t. Usually, our ages 40 and 50s are involved but not anything in the 20s or younger and that, to me, is mind-boggling. I am having a hard time trying to teach the new generation and impress upon them that you have to be vigilant; you can’t let your guard down. Some of them seem to understand that but not everybody does it.”
Keeping Up Pride
In 2014, CLARO did a survey (Pilot Community Assessment) of the Latino LGTBQ community and found that one of the complaints was that Hartford broke pride. Hartford used to have pride parades to celebrate the LGTBQ community and the past few years, while events did happen for Pride, the parade fell by the wayside.
Oritz says that next year Hartford plans to bring the parade back. He says, “We thought maybe we should do this and get a committee involved with representation from the community to help us put this thing together. And if this is one of the ways that we can engage the youth, then let’s do it.”
He continues, “We are going to have queens and marshalls and all that stuff. It’s gonna be beautiful we are really going to go all out on this. We have been able to save up pennies and doing the thing right. We want to bring people to our city and showcase our city, which is our main goal.”
Middletown’s recent Pride Parade, on Saturday, June 15, was a huge hit, and inspiration to Oritz and others in the community. Ortiz says of the parade, “There was a mix of straight people and so much diversity. Hartford tends to be very diverse in terms of ethnicity when they do parades, and I remember friends of mine saying of the Middletown parade, ‘I am so glad they are doing it but it is probably going to be all white parade, versus inclusive.’ But people were very surprised, it was a little bit of everything mixed in there which I thought was beautiful.”
Middletown’s Pride Parade was the only one in the state this year, a fact that Mayor Daniel T. Drew says, “We are really proud of.”
Mayor Drew attributes Middletown’s success to the community as a whole. “This has been a true community effort. The whole community has come together and we have had support across the board. A lot of people are put in their time and brought their resources to bear on the event.”
The inception of the idea began a year ago with the Assistant General, who suggested to Mayor Drew they raise the rainbow flag for the month of June. Mayor Drew says, “I suggested for the next year  we do something even bigger.”
And bigger they certainly did.
“This is the result of a true grassroots effort,” explains the Mayor. “So many organizations came together in this effort. Specifics of the event were created from the bottom up through a lot of collaboration.”
Randol Vazquez, a Dental Program Coordinator at the Hartford Gay & Lesbian Health Collective, marched in the parade alongside other Collective members. He says he was excited to be a part of this landmark event.
Pictures by Claudia Hilario
The Pride Parade stands as a pivotal moment in Middletown for the LGTBQ community, where visibility and inclusion are paramount. Where everyone came together to network and learn what other services and organizations are available to the community. But also, and just as importantly, it was an opportunity to celebrate diversity, to celebrate pride month and to continue the mission of those who came before.
Community Support and Landmark Decisions for the LGTBQ in Connecticut
Continued support of the LGTBQ community is integral in maintaining Connecticut’s reputation for championing the rights of the LGBTQ community. But so far, the community shows no signs of backing away.
In 2008, Connecticut became the second state to legalize gay marriage, following a state court decision that found the state’s civil unions failed to provide same-sex couples with rights and privileges equivalent to those of marriage. Massachusetts was the first to legalize gay marriage.
This year, the state legislative session ended with an overwhelming endorsement of a measure to ban the so-called gay panic defense, a legal strategy that asks a jury to find a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for a defendant’s actions, CT Mirror reported. It has been invoked in crimes in Connecticut.
The Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence is one of the many organizations dedicated to serving the LGBTQ community. It provides culturally relevant and accessible services for sexual violence survivors who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer. The organization’s website includes information in español.
CLARO, founded in 2004 is dedicated to promoting for Latinos LGTBQI equality, policy, social justice, human rights and education addressing homophobia and heterosexism.
CLARO hosted a conference called D’eso No Se Habla, translated as “One Does Not Speak About That” at the University of Connecticut (UCONN) in 2015. The event was billed as raising awareness and provide education on the challenges faced by the LGBTQ Latino youth when in their families and other environments there is no talk about their realities, needs and their experiences of oppression and discrimination.
Last year, CLARO was credited by Expedia.com in naming Hartford, Connecticut one of the most “exciting LGBTQ-friendly cities around the world.”
A recent GenForward Survey found that one in five Latino millennials identifies as LGTBQ. That’s more than any other ethnic group: 22 percent of Latino millennials, 14 percent of African’Americans, 13 percent of whites and 9 percent of Asian-Americans. This is why, now more than ever, it is important to remain active in the civil rights for the LGTBQ community, to celebrate and participate in Pride and to continue to ensure inclusion and tolerance for all.