Cultural Impressions
Martín Ornelas-Quintero, Executive Director of LLEGO, talks about the importance of having a positive image in the Latino community.

martin ornelas quinteroDedicated and intelligent. These are two words that came to mind as I spoke with Martín Ornelas-Quintero, Executive Director of LLEGO, the national organization for Latino/a Lesbians, QVs, Bisexuals and Transgenders. Speaking in a soft, soothing voice, Martín shared with me his coming out experience, how he became involved in Latino issues, and discussed not only the challenges but also the hopes for the Latino community.

Martín was born in Tijuana, Mexico, and raised near Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley. Upon graduating from high school, he attended college at the University of California at Berkeley. It was during his orientation week that he tearfully came out to a girl.

"I was really upset and I was crying," Martín explains. "My friend asked me what was wrong, and I couldn't tell her. The next day, we were in her room, and she told me she was very worried about me. I just started crying again, not really knowing what I was going to say, until finally I said, 'I'm QV.'"

Martín's friend responded by saying, "That's okay. You're still a good person. It's okay to be QV."
His friend's positive reaction would lay the foundation that would enable Martín to accomplish many positive things in his life. In the years ensuing, he got his Bachelor's degree in Chicano studies, successfully coordinated a direct service project in San Francisco called Mano a Mano, and later became involved with LLEGO in Washington D.C., where he's been since 1992. Along the way, he found and spiritually married his husband of eight years.

Today, one of Martín's goals is to present positive images of Latinos because, too often, we only see negativity. Take, for example, coming out stories.

"For every horrible coming out story that I hear, I know five wonderfully positive stories," Martín says. "But all we hear are the ugly ones like, 'I was kicked out my house, and I haven't had contact with my family for five years.' You don't hear the beautiful ones where the mother says, 'You know, mijo, I don't know what it means for you to be a joto, but I want to know.'"

Martín says that part of the reason we don't hear these positive stories is because the media, particularly Latino media, chooses not talk about it. Martín says the message this sends to us Latinos, "Is that the price we must pay for being QV is silence. And frankly, that silence is killing us. That silence has made many of us think less of our lives and has made us feel that we're not loved."

Martín says that it's his job to talk about QV, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered issues everywhere and constantly. "I will always be talking about QV issues. People need to hear about it to the point that we're so saturated with images, words, and visions of what we're about, that it tells a person, 'I don't need to be silent.'"
While he notes that non-Latino media has become more increasingly QV-friendly, those images don't necessarily hit home for many Latinos. Martín feels that we benefit fundamentally from television shows like "Ellen" and "Will and Grace," but because there are no Latinos in those shows, he wonders if they have the same impact on us and our families as they do for non-Latinos and their families."I'm not sure it does," he says.

"I think that our families and our Latino community have always known of QV and lesbian people. There is the guy who does the quinceañera and the guy who does hair. But the response of our families (when they see these people) is, 'Mijo, I don't want you to be like that. I don't want people to make fun of you. I don't want people to hurt you.' These parents don't realize that by not saying, 'I love you just as you are,' that they're hurting us. Until we get to the point where we show ourselves not only as effeminate maricones, which some of us are, and all our different faces, will our community be able to say, 'It's okay to be a hair dresser. The same way it is okay to be an editor of a magazine (making reference to qvStaff, qv's editor).' But right now they don't see the editor, all they see is the hairdresser. I think that's where the Latino media is negligent and responsible for perpetuating homophobia in our Latino community. It buys into the myth that Latinos (in general) are homophobic."

However, there is good news for Latinos. As Martín puts it, "We're going through a cultural revolution. We (ourselves) are beginning to feed our hunger for seeing ourselves through our own eyes. I think that qvMagazine is an extension of that. You begin to see the cultural reconciliations in that we as Latinos don't need to deny our cultura-our brownness-to be QV. We don't have to be ashamed of who we are. I see it across the country. We're organizing, connecting, and celebrating our lives. We're making our fantasies come true. We're making awareness beyond the bars. We're talking about sex a lot, which we need to. We're beginning to say, 'Yes I can be spiritual, and yes, I can be sexual. And that does not contradict one and the other.' We're loving ourselves and telling ourselves, yes we love each other and need each other."

Martín believes that the Latino community is full of potential, but in order to reach that potential, "We need to funnel our energies, our talents, and our resources to create healthy communities, healthy organizations, healthy individuals, and become a stronger political force."

The reality is that there are a lot of us. "On any one night, I couldn't guess how many Latinos are out at a bar," Martín says. "They're packed! We're out and our collective buying power is amazing. But we still need to learn to value ourselves. Martín explains we should place value on our own community-including the stuff the Latinos are doing. About qvMagazine, Martín states people need to say, 'It is important for me to buy this magazine for four dollars,' instead of saying, 'I'm going to get this for free!' There is value in seeing these images, but we're not investing in ourselves, our magazines, our communities, or our lives."

If we don't stay positive, add value, and invest in ourselves, then Martín says we will always see ourselves as "less than."

"I think we take away our ability to dream when we send (negative) messages and use words like, 'Why would I want to be QV?' No, no, no! Yes, you want to be QV. Yes, you want to be QV and do this. Yes, you want your cake and eat it, too. Yes, you want everything. Because, yes, you can do it."
Martín sums it all up when he says, "You would be amazed how one image, one word, one encounter can make a world of difference-just as when I came out. I know that if my friend had not said those words to me, 'It's okay to be QV,' I would not be here right now. That's how delicate our lives and realities are. We have the power to transform our world and make it a better place."

by qvStaff Roldán

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