Advocacy for LGBTQIA+ rights isn't new. Activism for equal rights and the end of discrimination officially began in the 1920s in the USA, and the late 1960s in the EU, but many homosexual people continued to live closeted lives well into the 1970s.
Over the past 20 years, laws prohibiting homosexual activities have been abolished, LGBTQIA+ can serve openly in the military, and same-sex couples can get married in all fifty US states. But it's not like this around the world, nor do all countries defend equal access to employment, housing, and (trans)gender equality. Even in the USA and Canada, legally binding regulations fail to eliminate discrimination and violence.
To acknowledge all that's been achieved, and what's still to come, this year the HERE Leon office in Mexico will participate in many Pride activities including LGBTQIA+ film “watch and discuss" events, a webinar on Pride history and partner sessions with local NGOs on LGBTQIA+ challenges.
In Chicago, the HERE Pride Employee Resource Group (ERG) offered custom-made greeting cards to LGBTQIA+ seniors, those who paved the way for social change.
“LGBTQIA+ seniors are at higher risk of social isolation [and are] more likely to live alone... due to generational discrimination against LGBTQIA+ individuals. The LGBTQIA+ community has a rich history and connecting with seniors allows us to understand the unique issues they faced." – Amber Collier, Sr Licensing Dev Analyst and HERE Pride ERG member
A small gesture with big results, the cards arrived at a time when COVID-19 self-isolation guidelines had everyone indoors, particularly those over fifty-five. Aligning with the Pride 2021 theme, “Chosen Family", HERE's ERG members reminded LGBTQIA+ seniors that they have support.
HERE360 spoke with Adrian George Garcia, one of eighty-one residents at the Halstead LGBTQIA+ senior's center in Chicago, and Colin Kelly and Amber Collier, Chicago HERE Pride ERG members, to discuss the impact of this community-minded project.
“... [Advocacy] should keep going, it shouldn't stop... Because once you stop, you lose everything. You start all over again... it should go on as long as it has to, which I think is forever." – Adrian George Garcia, member of the LGBTQIA+ community in Chicago since 1982, and active representative of the residents of the Center on Halsted. Image courtesy Adrian George Garcia.
HERE360 (H360): How has the HERE Technologies card campaign helped you?
Adrian George Garcia (AGG): “...it alleviates the feeling of being alone in this pandemic. It's nice to receive a card, it's nice to receive a note. Not many people in the building [connect with each other]... I tell you, it helps a lot. When we receive a card, it reminds us there's somebody out there that knows we're still alive.
"There's a lot of organizations that do it. There's a school here where kids make handmade cards. It's funny, they don't know us, they just say 'Hey neighbor, hope you're doing well.'"
“Connecting with the LGBTQIA+ senior community is very important to me because this generation paved the way for LGBTQIA+ rights and protections. The LGBTQIA+ community and landscape in the US, and Chicago, would not be where we are today without this brave, senior generation." – Colin Kelly, Lead Licensing Compliance Analyst and HERE Pride ERG member
H360: Do you think that the card campaign has had a bigger effect because of COVID-19?
AGG: “Definitely. When people receive a card, they tape it to their doors. When you go down the hallways all you see are doors full of cards. I distribute the cards to people; when there's a new card, I put in a clip, so they know it's new. They can add it to their collection."
H360: Can you tell me about the specific challenges you face as an LGBTQIA+ senior?
AGG: “...Before I moved in here in 2014, I used to live in a regular apartment in the north side of Chicago... with about 100-plus units, but I only knew one person... [At Halsted] I don't leave my apartment screaming, I'm George and I'm gay! but I'm more accepted. I go out and do my own business... as everybody does, I don't have to announce it. But in the previous building... we would be careful not to let it out."
“...Social isolation has been hard to overcome...The greeting cards are a way to...offer words of encouragement...making greeting cards for LGBTQIA+ seniors was perfect for times like these..." -Colin Kelly, Lead Licensing Compliance Analyst and HERE Pride ERG member
H360: You moved to Chicago in 1982. What changes have you witnessed in your community?
AGG: “In Chicago, in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, lesbians and gay males were so segregated from each other. If I walked into a lesbian bar, they questioned me, what are you doing here? This is our bar. But now most lesbian bars have closed and the few that exist have diversified. There's one bar here that's been in existence for about thirty years. It's called The Closet... It used to be a lesbian bar, but now... everybody just mingles and nobody claims, this is our bar. Nobody says that.
“Sending a card may seem like a small gesture to some, but it may be the only interaction some of these seniors receive during the COVID quarantine." – Amber Collier, Sr Licensing Dev Analyst and HERE Pride ERG member
H360: What advice would you offer to LGBTQIA+ seniors looking for support?
AGG: “...The sad part with seniors is that most of their relatives and close friends have moved or passed away, and it makes it hard for them... they have to make more friends, not stay by themselves...I tell every senior that I meet, especially LGBTQIA+, 'Come over here. You need to be with people either your own age, younger or older, because you cannot live alone... You need friends, you need a social life... come to the center, join the programs...' I am seventy-one years old... I keep myself busy because if I don't, I will be less adaptive to changes."
“HERE Pride is dedicated to ensuring all individuals feel like they have a safe space to be themselves. This means making sure we impact people's perspectives of the LGBTQIA+ community... give back to the community and recognize what those before us have experienced." -Amber Collier, Sr Licensing Dev Analyst and HERE Pride ERG member
In a world where LGBTQIA+ rights are still actively threatened (it was just last year that the Trump Administration revoked selected LGBTQIA+ rights in the USA), the significance of HERE Pride cannot be overstated.
“There are positive improvements but... there's a lot more things to be done than what has been achieved already. The fight can never stop. You have to keep going." – Adrian George Garcia
*Adrian George Garcia was interviewed via Zoom on June 23rd, 2021.
**Colin Kelly and Amber Collier were contacted via email on June 21st, 2021.
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