June 18, 2024

Quién Es Tu Gente: Showing Off Pride in the RGV

Words by Melissa Cortes Santiago

Edited by Abigail Vela

¿Quién es Tu Gente?” is an article series highlighting people and organizations creating safe and inclusive spaces in the RGV. This series hopes to combat the all too common idea of “no hay nada aqui en el Valle ” and encourage our readers to go out and find their gente.

It’s the middle of June, which means the summer has officially begun! Beaches, road trips, and unmatchable summer sunsets are just on the horizon. It also means that Pride events throughout the country, and here in the Rio Grande Valley, are in full swing. 

 

Celebrations in the RGV began June 1st with the South Texas Equality Project’s Pride Kickoff. Local LGBTQIA+ organizations and allies gathered to commemorate the 10th anniversary of STEP and inform community members of the resources available to them. The range of organizations varied from ones that support trans youth to others that document and share local queer history

One of the organizations tabling at the event that is making a significant impact this Pride Month is Casa Orgullo. They have been tirelessly working to provide essential resources, education, and health advocacy to support LGBTQIA+ youth in the RGV. Their driving mission is to not only provide a safe space for LGBTQIA+ youth but also build a community where these individuals can thrive and learn to navigate their journey with confidence and pride.

Aerial view of an advocate sharing information about resources to a community member during a pride event.
At community and tabling events, youth advocates for Casa Orgullo inform community members of the resources they provide. Illustration by Damaris Contreras.

How it all Began

The grand opening of Casa Orgullo was celebrated in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic back in 2020. The organization, developed by health advocates and coordinators of the Valley AIDS Council, was the first LGBTQIA+ youth center here in the RGV. It aimed to provide a safe resource for members of the community. 

 

“They would get a lot of calls from schools and different areas around the Valley asking like gay questions. So, the Valley AIDS Council decided that it was best to create a resource for people to come to,” said Valerie Rodriguez, a community health advocate for the Valley AIDS Council. 

 

This new resource was meant as a way to close the gap in health disparities that queer people face. According to research by the Guttmacher Institute, LGBTQIA+ individuals face barriers to accessing sexual and reproductive healthcare, more so than their straight counterparts. Some of these barriers come from anti-LGBTQIA+ sentiments and a lack of positive representation. The research showed that only 7 percent of LBGTQIA+ youth saw positive representation on topics such as sexual orientation and gender identity in their sexual education curriculum. 

 

We understand and recognize that community engagement is a really big part of public health. So through the different activities that we provide, we’re able to address different social determinants of health, whether it’s food insecurity, decreasing stigma, stress, things like that. Our mission really is to provide a safe space for all queer-identifying individuals just to come together and learn about the resources that we offer as VAC, but also through the different partnerships that we have with different organizations,” said Rodriguez. 

A snapshot of a pride event. There are people taking photos with friends and people talking with others.
Illustration by Damaris Contreras.

Creating a Safe Haven in the RGV

Casa Orgullo offers a variety of services aimed at fostering a healthy, informed and empowered community. 

 

They offer information and resources on getting tested for HIV and other STIs. They provide a safe space for people to discuss their sexual orientation and gender identity without judgment and connect community members to other LGBTQIA+ organizations that can provide more resources. Additionally, they host inclusive recreational activities where community members can drop in and get to know each other. 

 

“I’m someone who lives with HIV, so I understand people wanting to have social support or social integration and stuff to do with other people without feeling judged,” said Lee Herrera, a youth advocate at Casa Orgullo. “There weren’t any places like this for a queer person living with HIV like me to go out and about, talk to anyone. So for us to host that and have that space for someone is beautiful, I think.”

 

Access to a safe and inclusive space and an opportunity to connect with resources is vital to the health of our communities. LGBTQIA+ youth have a much higher risk for addiction and substance use, as well as higher reports of suicide attempts. Factors such as experiencing harassment, bullying, social stigma and unsupportive family members can contribute to this trend. 

 

However, having access to community resources and a robust support system has been shown to improve mental health and lower substance use amongst LGBTQIA+ youth. Long-term participation in community organizations has also been linked to a greater sense of self-esteem. 

Getting Involved and Banding Together

It is important to recognize and support the invaluable work being done by organizations like Casa Orgullo. Their commitment to providing a safe space and health advocacy for LGBTQIA+ youth empowers these individuals and strengthens our entire community. By fostering a sense of belonging and offering vital support, Casa Orgullo is helping to create a future where all youth can thrive.

As a community, we can do our part by supporting and promoting equality and health access for LGBTQIA+ individuals all year round, not just during Pride month. Together, we can ensure that every member of our community has the opportunity to live with pride, confidence, and joy.

“Educate yourself, know what’s going on in your hometown, in your city and understand that people need the support and the opportunity to have a safe space,” said Rodriguez. “Educate yourself on the different resources and have that knowledge so that when you encounter somebody who is LGBTQ-identifying, you can really be an advocate and an ally and uplift them.”

Mira Más De Este Autor

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