June is a month of celebration for LGBT Pride, a month where a positive stance against discrimination and violence toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are celebrated across the country. LGBT Pride month is celebrated each year in the month of June to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan. Celebrations include pride parades, picnics, concerts, among others. This month is one where people feel happy to truly be themselves, and let the world know that acceptance and love is needed everywhere. HHF is happy to bring more love to your life, and we introduce you to Israel Tovar, our 2012 National Education Youth Awardee.
“The summer prior to my senior year in high school, I began searching for different scholarships to fund my college education. During that search, I found the Hispanic Heritage Youth Awards. After applying, I was fortunate enough to be awarded the scholarship! At the National Youth Awards Ceremony in Los Angeles, I met the HHF team at the time as well as the prominent Mexican artist, Pepe Aguilar. Meeting Pepe Aguilar was particularly exciting since I grew up listening to his music. I was so happy that I had the opportunity to experience that.”
Israel was born in Tijuana, Mexico, immigrated with his family to Los Angeles when he was four years old, lived in LA for eight years, and moved to Nashville, Tennessee when he was 11 years old. He was undocumented for 7 years, and although he didn’t fully understand what his legal status was, he remembers what his family felt at the time. Israel became a United States citizen shortly after arriving in Nashville. Moving from LA to Nashville was a very formative experience for him, he grew up in a predominantly Mexican- American community in LA, and in Nashville there wasn’t a large presence of Latinos. It was the first time people told Israel that he looked differently. Israel had to grapple with his racial identity, developing a strong sense of his Latinx identity. Israel did very well academically, and got accepted into Yale University, where he just recently graduated from.
He served as peer liaison for La Casa Cultural at Yale University, where he served as a role model, advisor and trusted mentor who established a meaningful learning relationship with everyone he mentored. He empowered Latinx first- year mentees to be engaged, responsible and proactive citizens at Yale University. Israel not only provided mentees with social and academic support, but emotional support as well as he connected them to the center and other campus resources.
Yale became Israel’s new home, where he fully embraced his queerness. In high school, Israel thought about his sexuality but since he was not financially independent, he chose to ignore it until he left home for college. “Being at Yale really empowered me to explore my queerness. At Yale, I found a loving home in the university’s Latinx Cultural Center. Becoming heavily involved with such an inclusive and supportive cultural center allowed me to grow very comfortable with being both gay and Latino in a predominantly white institution,” said Israel.
LGBT Pride month is a safe haven for many, a month where more learn about the issues that the country is faced with pertaining to equal rights for everyone. So much has been done, but there is still a lot of work to do moving forward. “I’m supportive of the annual LGBT Pride month, but I also recognize that it has to be more inclusive of trans and queer people of color. In having conversations about this topic, it is absolutely critical to always remember that Pride is a product of Trans activism that has now been appropriated by primarily cis white gay men. Although I do appreciate the celebration of queer existences, there is still a ton of work to be done, especially bearing in mind what happened last year during this time in Orlando, a massacre of primarily queer Latino males. Moving forward, we have to keep all of these factors in mind when talking about Pride month and what it means for different communities.”
Regardless of the obstacles that many in the LGBT community are faced with, there are allies that are helping bring more awareness to these issues. Israel said, “I am grateful for the work that allies are doing, but I do think that there should be way more allies invested in queer liberation. Throughout American history, queer people have been the ones doing most of the work to gain the rights that certain queer people enjoy today. We need more allies committed to the cause.”
“I think that the Latinx community is very diverse in terms of nationality, geographic location in the United States, socio-economic background; all of these factors together heavily influence the ways Latinx communities formulate their views on sexual identity, gender expression, gender identity, etc. I also think that many Latinx communities are very conservative in terms of their religious beliefs. There are strong Catholic and Christian ideologies that permeate Latinx communities in the United States, Latin America, Central America, Mexico, my family included.”
Israel continued to say, “when I came out to my family, the news was more difficult to digest for my family members who were very religious but easier for the ones who were not as religious to accept my queerness, so I think that religion does play a critical role in how Latinx communities engage with their queer members. Also, access to a social justice education, language, and tools to articulate or talk about these topics also play fundamental roles in the ways our communities engage with queerness, and I feel like our communities, because of structural barriers, unfortunately still lack the appropriate tools to do so .”
From former HHF Youth Awardee, to Yale graduate, Israel is a positive, energetic soul who is ready for any challenge that comes his way. “I think it is important for our communities to realize that we have an immense amount of political power, but in order to unleash that power, we need to more actively unite and build more sustainable and genuine coalitions.”
To apply to HHF’s Youth Awards like Israel did, go here! Youth Awards honors Latino high school seniors who excel in the classroom and community for their focus in various categories including business and entrepreneurship, community service, education, healthcare and science, media and entertainment, science, engineering and mathematics!
For more information on LGBT Pride, check out NOH8 Campaign!