Brownsville’s Feminist Book Club Meets To Discuss LGBTQ+ Experiences at Búho Bookstore

Words by Melissa Cortes Santiago

Edited by Abigail Vela

Various people sitting down at a bookstore engaging in conversation, drinking wine, and reading.
Participants attending the event at Búho bookstore had time to read the preface of the book before the discussion started. However, many began to engage in conversation soon after their arrival.

The sound of clinking wine glasses, chatter, and hearty laughter engulfed the dimly lit bookstore as participants poured in and prepared to discuss the preface of “Juliet Takes a Breath” for the night’s bilingual feminist book club. 

The meeting was held on October 24 at Búho, Brownsville’s newest indie bookstore, and hosted by Planned Parenthood South Texas. This was the 2nd book club event hosted by the organization in partnership with Planned Parenthood Global. The event featured free books and totes for the first 25 participants, information on Planned Parenthood’s services, and heartfelt discussions with guest speakers from Brownsville’s LGBTQ+ Task Force and the South Texas Equality Project (STEP). 

“My hope is that attendees get to know each other and learn about resources available in the community. You know, Planned Parenthood is here in the RGV, and we are here to stay,” said Nubia Reyna, the community engagement manager for Planned Parenthood. 

As a fellow for Planned Parenthood Global, Reyna created the book club to facilitate a space where people could come together to learn about the resources available to them. While at the same time creating a safe space to discuss the pressing topics affecting our community and allowing participants to share their personal experiences. So far, the books discussed at the meetings have dealt with the themes of immigration and LGBTQ+ rights.

“It was very important for us that each book has a message, has a theme, has something important to say. Then for that message that we’re choosing, we have someone who is an expert share their experiences,” Reyna said. 

In this past meeting, the bilingual conversation was led by members of the LGBTQ+ Task Force and STEP. They first informed participants of the resources they offer the LGBTQ+ community, then went on to reiterate their favorite parts of the book, and finally took questions from participants. The book “Juliet Takes a Breath” follows the journey of a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx who came out to her family shortly before taking off to complete an internship with her favorite writer in a space very different from the one she grew up in.

“My favorite part was seeing people asking questions, querian aprender, and seeing their faces like ‘I know what you went through,’” said Cesar Villareal, vice chair of the Brownsville LGBTQ Task Force.

While discussing the book, Villareal drew similarities between the protagonist, Juliet, and himself and shared his past experiences with discrimination in our community. Growing up gay in the Valley was not an easy experience, but he was able to face those adversities with support from some family members and his resilience. Villareal explained the importance of LGBTQ+ representation and safe spaces for community members to learn from one another.

Three people addressing the crowd, standing behind a table with a black mantel draped over it that reads “Planned Parenthood.”
Members from the Brownsville LGBTQ Task Force and STEP who were speakers at the book club at Búho bookstore. Cesar Villareal, Hector Ruiz, Gabriel Sanchez (left to right)

“It is important just to be visible,” he said. “Being visible and seeing other members, who aren’t necessarily queer but are here as allies and are willing to learn about us, is amazing.”

Two people engaged in conversation standing by a table with a black mantel draped over it that reads “Planned Parenthood” while another person stands to the side and stares at them.
Nubia Reyna and volunteers at the event discussing resources available to the community at the Búho bookstore. Participants had the opportunity to speak to the organizers after the event to ask questions or receive guidance.

That community support and collaboration of knowledge is what Reyna envisioned the program to foster. This comes at a time of increasing attempts by school districts and states across the country to ban books from schools and public libraries. Many books proposed to be banned notably deal with topics relating to the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, “Juliet Takes a Breath” was banned in a Georgia school district. 

 

Reyna noted that books and the knowledge they carry represent a form of activism. Although the book club was not intended to fight against the recent book bans across the state, it does represent a way that community members can push back: getting informed and involved. 

 

“Books have opened doors for many people to see a world outside of what we are taught in school, taught by our family, by society,” she said. ”That makes us aware of our privileges and allows us to have more empathy.”

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