Remembering Horacio N. Roque Ramirez, Scholar and HIV Activist, Three Years After His Death

Horacio Roque Ramírez
UC Santa Barbara

On Christmas Day 2015, we lost a dearly beloved queer guanaco (a term of endearment among Salvadorans), Horacio N. Roque Ramírez, Ph.D., to complications from alcoholism. He was only 46 years old, and he was an academic pioneer for LGBT Central Americans pursuing a career in academia. He taught at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) in the Chicana/o Studies Department, where, according to Gilberto Q. Conchas, Ph.D., "he was a scholar of queer sexuality, and a proponent of oral history, a storyteller of the forgotten histories of the marginalized in society, a scholar of the invisible."

I read Horacio's words found in his essay, "This Desire for Queer Survival," and I immediately begin to have chills over these foreshadowing words: I don't want the academic game to kill me. However, the anguish goes deeper than the abuse academia brings to bear on students and faculty of color. Horacio's desire for "queer survival" is a consciousness we as queer, transgender people of color know all too well -- whether we are talking about substance use, HIV/AIDS, family rejection, or the residual effects of complex trauma -- we understand that our bodies are marked with loss and painful memories.

A scholar of the invisible and forgotten, Horacio would use obituaries from the gay press to document the lives of queer Latinx people who died from complications of AIDS in the 1980s and 90s.

"He carried the grief of a community decimated by HIV/AIDS. Horacio took responsibility for so much … his students, queer migrants seeking asylum, HIV-positive Latinas and Latinos," said Nan Alamilla Boyd, Ph.D., professor of women and gender studies at San Francisco State University. Many of his queer subjects were HIV-positive migrants and transgender Latinas, such as the notorious San Francisco performer Teresita, La Campesina. La Campesina was advocating for transgender rights in the 90s, urging San Francisco voters to hit the polls and advocate for LGBT rights. These were some of the people Horacio would interview, highlighting their passion and the human condition.

Salvadoran colleagues viewed Horacio as someone with a powerful platform who shaped their understanding of queer theory. "I continue to teach his writing and to tell my Central American Studies classes about him and his legacy," said Leisy Abrego, Ph.D., associate professor of Chicano Studies with University of California at Los Angeles. "For someone like me who is heterosexual, he also always serves as a reminder for the need to be inclusive and to call out homophobia and transphobia in Central American spaces."

I remember corresponding with Roque over email about the queer Central American research I was conducting at University of California, Berkeley. I was utterly bewitched by his intellect. I was studying Roque's groundbreaking work, chronicling the efforts of HIV organizations such as Proyecto ContraSIDA Por Vida (PCPV), a nonprofit HIV-prevention organization that provided grassroots health care for the Latinx and LGBT communities in the heart of the Mission District of San Francisco. PCPV was organized by a group of academic scholars who paved the way for queer theory and praxis in tandem with Latinx identities, including Berkeley professor Juana Maria Rodriguez, Ph.D., and playwright Ricardo Abreu Bracho. Roque documented the methodologies these scholars implemented in their work with PCPV, which consisted of harm-reduction principles, sex-positive programs, and a commitment to gender and sexuality studies.

But other scholars are now working to honor his legacy, so that his work will not be lost to history. Leda Ramos, M.F.A., lecturer with California State University at Los Angeles, leads a project archiving Central American history and curates an exhibit, "Central American Families in Los Angeles: Networks and Cultural Resistance". In this exhibit, Ramos showcases Horacio's work, among that of other Central American activist-scholars, and admires the methodologies he used, which went beyond traditional qualitative research.

"He had an empathetic personality to want to be in spaces were you know it's going to be tough," said Ramos. "But you do it for the love you have, because you want to bring this into conversation."

The exhibit is open to the public and will end January 15, 2019. This exhibit is but one of the ways scholars are keeping Roque's legacy alive. It's our duty to honor his legacy and recognize how his work impacted HIV/AIDS prevention.