Juan Castillo-Alvarado remembers what things were like when he came out in the early 1980s. As a gay teenager growing up in a strict and religious family, he says he faced rejection and alienation from family and the community.
“All of the family relationships I had growing up just disappeared overnight,” says Castillo-Alvarado. “Even now, I have family members I haven’t seen in 30 years. It’s painful to see people throw away entire relationships just because of who someone is.”
Today, Castillo-Alvarado helps promote equality for the LGBTQ+ community as the Public Education Director of Latino Equality Alliance (LEA). On Sunday, LEA is celebrating its 10-year anniversary by marching as an individual organization for the first time in this year’s Los Angeles Pride Parade.
The group was established in 2009 as an alliance of representatives from various organizations coming together to fight against California Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that would eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in the state.
“We took to the streets and started to protest against the proposition,” says Eddie Martínez, a founding board member and current Executive Director of LEA. “We saw the injustices happening against LGBTQ+ individuals and we recognized the need for awareness and acceptance within the Latinx community.”
A decade later, Latino Equality Alliance has continued its mission to promote liberty, equality and justice for the Latinx LGBTQ+ community. In 2015, the organization found its home in Boyle Heights after opening the LGBTQ+ center Mi Centro on Clarence Street.
A collaboration between LEA and the Los Angeles LGBT Center, Mi Centro was created to offer services to members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community, such as referrals to medical services, support groups, educational programming, social events and a safe space to talk.
“We are always trying to mobilize young people, their families, and the community to learn about LGBTQ+ inclusion, wellness, and equity,” says Angel Ayón, the Outreach Coordinator for LEA. “This work is still necessary after 10 years so we’re going to continue to provide an avenue for awareness in the area and push for a better tomorrow for everyone.”
At the center, a Youth Council of students from different high schools in Boyle Heights meets on a monthly basis to socialize and discuss different issues within the community. In 2018, the council worked with GSA Network, One Archives, and Out for Safe Schools to craft and help pass the LAUSD “Increasing Supports for LGBTQ+ Students, Their Families and Schools” resolution.
Over the years, LEA has expanded its work to better serve the Latinx community of Boyle Heights. Castillo-Alvarado offers parent workshops at local high schools including Roosevelt and Felicitas & Gonzalo Méndez. Mi Centro also hosts two monthly parent support groups, PFLAG en Español and Familias Afortunadas. The center also offers legal support through the LA LGBT Center every first and third Thursday of the month and free HIV testing every Tuesday.
“It’s important for members of the Latinx community to be accepting and open to learning about the LGBTQ+ community,” says Mónica Salazar, the parent of a transgender boy at Roosevelt High School. “These workshops allow for parents like me to share our experiences to learn, heal, and build our knowledge together to support our children.”
This month, LEA will host its 4th annual Purple Lily Awards on June 26th, honoring and recognizing leaders in the community who have worked towards creating a safer, healthier and brighter future for the LGBTQ+ Latinx community. The organization will also be awarding 10 scholarships to students going to or attending college or university.
“Seeing all of the amazing things being done by LGBTQ+ individuals and their families inspires me and is why we marched in the streets 10 years ago,” says Martínez. “As long as there is a need for our work, we will never stop fighting for this community.”