Unsung Heroes: The People Behind The Movements


By: Stephanie M. Fuentes Álvarez

       The University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez brought back this year its Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community-related event, the “Coloquio ¿Del Otro La’o?” Perspectivas Sobre Sexualidades ‘Queer’” for its 5th edition. On Wednesday March 5, the second of this three day event, a panel discussing the part religion and spirituality play within the LGBT community took place.

       The event is described by one of its main coordinators, professor Lissette Rolón Collazo, in an interview conducted for the UPRM chapter of HerCampus.com, as one where students can “co-educate themselves about social diversity, history of struggles and the intersections between types of discrimination.” During the panel, titled “Sexualidades Queer, Espiritualidades y Resistencias” (Queer Sexualities, Spirituality, and Resistances), these themes were explored.

       In a discussion about how interpretations of the Bible take six or seven verses and use them as the backbone for their discrimination, Dr. Pedro de Jesús Colón, one of the three invited panelists, brought to light all the work being done to stop and reverse this practice. “Given that there is a homophobic bias in religions like the Judeo-Christian faith (because of the fact that they are extremely androcentric, and hetero-normative), if we were to work to distort this status quo it would be beneficial for the gay community as a whole,” said Ronald Tobin, an English major who worked at the panel as an usher and was in agreement with Dr. Colón’s presentation.

       Dr. Colón further discussed how fundamentalists, in order to support their arguments, pick and choose the meaning and context they find relevant. He talked about all the work he and his colleagues do to try to show that there are many different interpretations and that the Bible never explicitly condemns the LGBT community.

       Dr. Colón’s goal is to bring back comfort, clear away doubts, and even save the lives of modern day queers who also identify as Christians. “Religion can instill good values into a society, and there are people in the world who need a reason to live, or continue living; if religion is the path they wish to follow then there is nothing wrong with that,” added Tobin.

       Due to the absence of Dr. Luis F. Lanuza, the panel’s moderator Dr. Rafael Jackson Martín, read to the audience filling up the 10 rows of the conference room, about a female writer whose self-described “spiritual activism” had been quietly changing the world. Her name was Gloria Anzaldúa and her method of fighting discrimination was using happiness and joy as a resistance. It was her view that suffering was to be made into a political category for which knowledge and queer theory would fight against. Anzaldúa worked with the belief that in adversity it was these non-physical aspects of life that held the power to lead the LGBT community through its struggles.

       The final speaker at the panel, professor Aixa Rodríguez, showed a presentation about one of the LGBT community’s biggest, yet widely unknown, heroes. His name was Bayard Rustin and he was at the intersection of queer and African-American issues, fighting alongside one of the biggest names in one of the biggest historical struggles in American history, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Professor Aixa Rodríguez showing an image of Bayard Rustin during her presentation.

       Despite being at the forefront of both movements, Rustin seems to have been forgotten by history books, due to his sexual orientation. A man who actually refused to move from a bus, before Rosa Parks did it, and who fought, while in the midst of the AIDS crisis in 1985, to add sexual orientation to the laws against discrimination, had his religious background as a quaker, as a negro spirituals singer, and as pacifist be the foundation behind it all.





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