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Queer Latina activist offers call to action for LGBTQ community

Editor’s note: This story was initially published on Out in the 562 one year ago after Griselda Suarez and Amy Eriksen received their award from the Long Beach Lambda Democratic Club.  Suarez’s message to the LGBTQ community is still relevant.

Amy Eriksen, left, and Griselda Suarez received the Jean Harris Persons of the Year Award on Saturday night at the Long Beach Lambda Democratic Club’s 34th Annual Human Rights Banquet. In a guest column for Out in the 562, Suarez offers a call to action for the LGBT community. Photo courtesy of Griselda Suarez

Amy Eriksen, left, and Griselda Suarez received the Jean Harris Persons of the Year Award in 2015 at the Long Beach Lambda Democratic Club’s 34th Annual Human Rights Banquet. In a guest column for Q Voice News, Suarez offers a call to action for the LGBTQ community. Photo courtesy of Griselda Suarez

By Griselda Suarez, Special to Q Voice News

LONG BEACH – When Amy and I received the news that the Lambda Democratic Club had selected us as the “Jean Harris Persons of the Year,” quite honestly, we were surprised. What had we done to get this honor?

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Jean Harris – An active, visible ‘L’
To understand the award, we did some research. We already knew of Jean Harris’ work her crafting of the domestic partnership responsibilities, but we wanted to know how she lived. We talked to friends who knew her and learned that she was an active and visible “L” in the LGBT community of not only Long Beach, but also California.

Taking it a step further, we asked each other, “Are we part of ‘the’ group?” This has been a running joke between us – We dress up for some events, while others are come as you are gatherings.

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Not ‘L-Word’ lesbians
We are not hip or fashionable, nor are we any of the “L-Word” versions. We are, stereotypically, huge Indigo Girls fans. We like to resist being part of a crowd; however, this statement alone forces us to check ourselves. We are a college educated, middle class household; communicate fluently in English; we are citizens and married; we have access to healthcare; we have agency to maneuver city hall business procedures.

Amy and I are visible because we are honest about our relationship in all of our circles, but mostly we are truthful with each other about how our Latina/White, big-girl, gender non-conforming, progressive love impacts the spaces we enter. We are partners in life, arts, education, and business. Sometimes we are welcomed with open arms, and other times we feel like we are not the kind of dykes people are watching out for.

Participating in city life – Even attending a budget meeting
Although, we strongly believe in engaging community in all aspects of life, we also know that not everyone feels like they can participate in all the arenas of our city. Amy and I will go to any event that will teach us something about our city. We even went to our district’s city budget meeting for fun.

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This extraordinary honor reminds us that we have work to do everyday to make Long Beach better. Where do we start? Step one: admit that “we” have issues. Here’s how we see it:

When we walk into an LGBT event, we need to see more than the usual seven lesbians about town. We live in a diverse queer city, yet we are not creating space for our lesbian community members. Thank goodness we are not West Hollywood, but there have been many gay brothers who freak out and give shade when we try to talk to them at a business mixer. Get over it.

*If we understand that struggles intersect, then we should see our LGBT community at (insert organization that works toward social justice here) events. There are undocumented queer members of our community that do not have the same rights. There are homeless queer youth that need more than just a job to get their life on track. Let’s march for each other beyond Pride month. #noneedtoknowthenewMadonnasong #Knowwheretovolunteer

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*Watch “I Am Caitlyn” with a raised eyebrow. It is so easy to get caught up on what she is wearing and even easier to think that extreme media attention means progress. This week Diana Sacayàn, an international LGBT activist, was found dead in her apartment; the third transgender woman murdered this month in Buenos Aires. More than 20 transgender and gender non-confirming people have been murdered in the United States this year. It is no longer okay to just say that we can now love who love. We need to fight to live how we want to live. I love my Queer family to life.

Receiving this award reassures us that we are doing something right and we will continue to push our community towards progress even if it is uncomfortable or awkward. We are visible because so many fought for us, like Jean Harris and Sylvia Rivera. Movimiento continues.

Amy Eriksen and Griselda Suarez received the Jean Harris Persons of the Year Award at the Long Beach Lambda Democratic Club’s 34th Annual Human Rights Banquet in 2015. Eriksen is executive director of the Angels Gate Cultural Center, and Suarez lectures on writing, literature and art in Cal State Long Beach’s Chicano and Latino Studies Department.

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About the author

Griselda Suarez

Griselda Suarez believes that the arts are essential in empowering communities. As a Lambda Literary Fellow, she continues to work on her poetry collection and a body of essays. Her publications include "25 for 25: Outstanding Contemporary LGBT Authors and Those They Inspired" for Lambda Literary Foundation’s 25th anniversary, Aunt Lute Press, Seal Press, Acentos Literary Review, Finishing Line Press, NCOC Press, The Other Side, and OutSpoken. She is the Executive Director of the Arts Council for Long Beach and a lecturer of Chicano and Latino Studies.

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