The Oasis Latino LGBT Wellness Center, a program of Latino Commission on AIDS (LCOA), is spearheading two campaigns against homophobia and transphobia in New York City. The first campaign launch event, for Zero Homophobia, took place this past May at New York City Hall. The Zero Transphobia campaign will launch November 20 in honor of the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Both campaigns will involve mobilizing events as well as social media and public awareness activities.
"Both campaigns were developed to bring light to the impact that both homophobia and transphobia have on the lives of individuals in our communities," shares Luis Scaccabarrozzi, M.P.H., vice president of Latino Commission on AIDS. "We wanted to make sure that Latino communities were aware that these issues impact their own brothers and sisters. We want everyone to question themselves in regard to their own behaviors -- they might have not perceived themselves as being homophobic or transphobic -- but also to ensure that people who have experienced homophobia or transphobia knew they were not alone."
Community organizers, such as Leandro Rodriguez, are working to make sure this message resonates with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riot, which erupted due to police brutality against transgender people and other queer individuals.
"The purpose of the first-ever Week Against Homophobia among Hispanic communities aims to achieve zero homophobia," shares Rodriguez, who is the director of the Latino Oasis Wellness Center with LCOA. "This campaign will engage all sectors of our nation to work together to end homophobia."
These two campaigns aim to draw awareness to the harms that homophobia and transphobia can cause marginalized people. According to a report by the National Center for Transgender Equality, one in five transgender people have been homeless at least once in their lives. What's more, the report adds that a lack of cultural awareness has "contributed to continued discrimination, eviction, and homelessness of transgender people in the United States."
Family rejection and violence have contributed to a large number of LGBT youth experiencing homelessness -- about 40% of homeless youth -- and most of them are youth of color. The Oasis Latino LGBT Wellness Center believes that education to challenge homophobia and transphobia within families is a part of their work to support people living with HIV. It's also an integral part of HIV prevention, helping to mitigate these forms of institutional violence and bring awareness to these issues. These forms of institutional discrimination start with the family unit, which is the first form of socialization that LGBT folks understand.
Olivia G. Ford, a former editor with TheBody, may have said it best when she wrote about the connection between homophobia and HIV risk within the context of understanding family dynamics: "I really have come to believe that, as long as this society tells young queer [people] that their lives are not equal to straight people's lives, or that their lives are not valued, that they are not cherished, that they are not respected, we are not going to have successful prevention strategies."
"This campaign engages families who want to be allies," said Scaccabarrozzi. But transgender women, often spurned by their families and with no sources of income, can end up on the street, and many, mostly black and Latina, are murdered.
Adding to the discrimination and isolation in families and communities, LGBTQ people are discriminated against by many institutions. While forms of bias and discrimination existed long before the Trump administration, it is important to note that the administration has proposed and implemented several policies that further allow for transgender people to be discriminated against in housing and homeless shelters, health care access, and military service. Several transgender women have also died in U.S. custody at the border as the administration has increased its specific attacks on immigrants. Meanwhile in New York where LCOA and Oasis are based, Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to cut nearly $60 million in funds for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which provides HIV and sexually transmitted disease testing and services to LGBTQ people, most of whom are low-income black and Latinx people without insurance.
These forms of homophobia and transphobia, both familial and institutional, are reasons why Latino Commission on AIDS says they launched this campaign.
The organization has a call to action for organizations that want to do this work on a national level. "This can be an educational event or an opportunity to speak with legislators on a local level," says Scaccabarrozzi. He plans to measure the success of both campaigns by seeing if innovative community programs, partnerships, and policy changes happen as a result in Latinx communities.