As we prepare to celebrate Pride in San Diego, a city with the world's busiest border crossing, we would be remiss if we failed to recognize and proactively address the polarizing political climate and xenophobia currently impacting this nation. Discrimination and violence against the LGBTQ community and other marginalized people are on the rise. Those of us whose lives rest on the intersection of multiple minority communities know all too well how bad things have gotten. Even within sections of our own communities, we’re told we are too brown or too queer.
I am a first-generation U.S. citizen, born to a Jewish mother, whose family emigrated to the U.S. to escape persecution, and a Catholic Mexican father, whose family came to this country for a better life, only to spend much of it working in the fields of California. While I was growing up, my parents did their best to prepare me for the discrimination I would face because I was “mixed,” but what they were less prepared for was a queer son who loved dresses more than G.I. Joe.
I still remember the harassment our family would experience from the Border Patrol. What most people don't realize is that these folks would drive around town and pull you over at any time. Year after year, I watched my father and family be tormented by these officers because of the color of their skin; my uncle was pulled over, beaten, and kicked into a canal in front of his wife and children.
I remember being torn away from my own family multiple times as a child because my skin and hair were much lighter than theirs. As I cried for them, officers said I “must have been kidnapped” and asked, “Where is your family?”
At school, the issues were similar — the anti-Semitism, racism, and homophobia I experienced started as early as third grade. I couldn't sit with the boys because I was too feminine. I couldn't sit with the girls because boys were icky. How can anyone expect a small child to understand or even begin to deal with these issues when the messages come from their friends, school faculty, family, and institutions of faith? These experiences led me to familial rejection and two suicide attempts.
From the small town of El Centro into the LGBTQ community of San Diego, I was still met with racism, and I am to this day. There has been no shortage of calls or emails to San Diego Pride telling me to “go back to my country,” but that doesn't deter us from staying focused on the important work of this organization.
While I was fortunate enough to be saved by truly compassionate people in our community, those early childhood experiences have shaped the way I look at the world and the way we, San Diego Pride as an organization, attempt to help our community.
In 1981, San Diego Pride board member Doug Moore helped create the first list of Pride organizers around the country. In 1984, the first InterPride Conference was held in San Diego, and that early work to connect and coordinate our community has grown. Today, over 1,000 Prides across the world have been identified and connected through the InterPride organization.
In this same spirit, we began collaborating with the San Diego Diplomacy Council several years ago to begin welcoming delegates from all over the world to our organization. Since then, we've met with 423 leaders from 128 countries around the world to discuss LGBTQ history, issues, and policies.
In a time when 77 countries around the world still criminalize same-sex relationships and seven countries punish this “crime” with the death penalty, it is no wonder why people, particularly trans women, are coming to our borders seeking asylum. All too often we have to remind people in the LGBTQ community that the right to seek asylum is protected by both U.S. and international law, and that this organization opposes the inhumane treatment and the violation of the human rights of adults, children, and families who, like my own family, came here for a better life.
This year we partnered with the city of San Diego, San Diego LGBT Community Center, the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties, and other regional organizations to invest in a binational conference in Tijuana, Mexico, focused on LGBTQ leadership development, capacity building, and binational collaboration. Our goal was to have 60 people in attendance. We had 223.
Clearly, there is a need for this work. Binational efforts have a long tradition in this region. A line on a map isn't a wall that severs our communities from interacting socially or economically. There has been and continues to be a thriving and healthy exchange of community, culture, and queer wisdom happening every day.
San Diego is a beautiful city, and Pride here is like no other. A few months ago, I was appointed to lead this organization as the first Latinx executive director of San Diego Pride. I'm still trying to wrap my head around this journey and how best to serve the unique community and climate. Anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, ableism, ageism, anti-immigrant bias, and any other way people use fear as a weapon are our issues. We as LGBTQ people of any age should fully understand that human rights violations are intolerable.
This is our fight. It’s all our fight, and maybe that’s the scary thing. It seems too big to tackle alone, but we aren’t alone in this fight. My hope is that this organization will continue to build bridges of understanding and tear down the walls of fear and oppression. That is how, together, we will persist with Pride.
FERNANDO Z. LOPEZ is executive director of San Diego Pride.