16 Queer Latinx Changemakers You Need to Know

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Celebrated every June, Pride Month is an opportunity to honor the LGBTQIA+ community and its allies and celebrate queer people for who they are. One day to do this is to recognize our historic and present-day contributions and accomplishments across various fields, including in the world of activism and political advocacy. This is especially true in the Latinx community because queer Latinxs face unique issues compared to other ethnic groups like cultural homophobia, gender-based violence, and machismo. That’s why it’s so important to celebrate queer Latinxs throughout Latin America, the U.S., and beyond who continue to play a big part in resisting oppression and fighting for our rights. So there’s no better time than now to spotlight several queer Latinx changemakers who have made a difference, like transgender and nonbinary model Indya Moore and actor Pedro Zamora. Read on to learn more about 16 queer Latinx changemakers you should know for Pride Month.

Sylvia Rivera

Iconic trans activist Sylvia Rivera was born in 1951 in New York City in 1951 to a father from Puerto Rico and a mother from Venezuela. She had a tough childhood that included the loss of her mother to suicide when she was three and getting beat up in the sixth grade because of her gender identity. She ran away from home at 11 years old and became a sex worker in order to survive. In her teens she met the trailblazing trans activist Marsha P. Johnson and together they were part of the Stonewall Inn uprising on June 28, 1969 where patrons of the gay bar stood up against a police raid. The duo started the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) around 1971, a safe place for the trans community that also offered housing. Rivera spoke up about the exclusion of the trans community in the gay rights movement and became a vocal advocate for trans inclusion and rights. She died of liver cancer in 2002 at the age of 50.

Angie Xtravaganza

Born in New York City in 1964, Angie Xtravaganza was a transgender Latina of Puerto Rican descent. From an early age, she knew she wanted to help others in her community. When she was 13, she helped take care of children who had been rejected by their families for their sexualities and gender identities, and quickly found empowerment for herself through drag. Later, when she was only 18 years old, she helped co-found the House of Xtravaganza and took on the role of the House Mother in the early days of the ballroom scene. This was a competition founded by Black and Latinx gay subcultures where contestants were judged in voguing, performing, and fashion. In addition to helping her “house children” choose their outfits for balls, she took in many folks who were rejected and homeless and helped them become empowered in their identities. She was also a huge advocate for HIV/AIDS education and worked to raise awareness about the disease both in and out of her community. Thanks to her work, the House was recognized as the first primarily Latinx house and one of the most influential in the ball scene. She later was diagnosed with AIDS and died at the age of 28 but is still remembered today for her activism and undeniable impact on the queer Latinx community.

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Michaela Jaé Rodriguez

Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, formerly known as Mj Rodriguez, was born in 1991 to an African American mother and an Afro-Puerto Rican father. From the time she was seven years old, she knew she wanted to become an actress and began pursuing a career professionally when she was 11. She later came out as gay when she was 14 and got involved in the local ballroom scene. She went on to star in many off-Broadway productions like Rent, Runaways, and Street Children before starring in as Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista in the critically-acclaimed TV series Pose. For her work, she has earned many critical and historical accolades including becoming the first openly transgender women to win an Imagen Award for Best Actress, the first transgender woman to receive an Emmy Award nomination, and the first transgender actor to ever win a Golden Globe. Her trailblazing career has not only opened doors for other trans actors, but her role as an activist has also raised awareness of trans and Black issues. She has fought against trans violence and police brutality against the Black community and continues to be an inspiration for all queer Latinxs.

Horacio Roque Ramírez

Born in 1969, Horacio Roque Ramírez was a historian, writer, and advocate of Salvadoran descent. As a Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley, he led the charge in dedicating academic research to queer Latinx communities in the U.S. and he especially focused on Central American communities. He worked with local queer Latinx activists like Diane Felix and organizations like the Gay Latino Alliance to compile oral histories from the queer Latinx community in San Francisco and build a living archive of their experiences. He turned this into the book Queer Latino San Francisco: An Oral History, 1960s-1990s, which was published the year of his death in 2015. As a professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at UC Santa Barabara, he is also remembered as an expert in political asylum and how asylum seekers can be impacted by gender identity, sexuality, HIV status, and gang violence. He dedicated his life to capturing and preserving the stories of marginalized people who were systematically erased and forgotten from the mainstream, and in doing so, advocated for greater visibility for folks in the queer Latinx community in academia.

Dennis deLeon

Dennis deLeon was born in 1948 in Los Angeles to Mexican parents. After graduating from Occidental College, he earned a law degree from Standford Law School. He then began working as a human rights lawyer for migrant workers in New York and was critical in smoothing out tensions between different racial and ethnic groups in the city. In the ’90s, he became president of the Latino Commission on AIDS, which is a nonprofit group that is still functioning today that combats the spread of HIV/AIDS in the Latinx community in the U.S. Under his leadership, he grew the staff from 2 to 45, formed an annual budget of $5 million, and partnered with almost 400 U.S.-based organizations in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Because of his work, he was able to work with Spanish-language churches to create AIDS prevention programs and celebrate the first National Latino AIDS Awareness Day. He also became one of the first city officials in New York City to publicly disclose his positive HIV status in an effort to destigmatize and raise awareness about the virus.

Cecilia Gentili 

Cecilia Gentili was born in Argentina in 1972 and had a difficult childhood. From the time she was six years old, she was sexually abused by a neighbor and was targeted by police for wearing woman’s clothing. When she later came out as gay, her father and brother struggled to accept her and her Indigenous grandmother was the only person who supported her. When she was 26, she immigrated to the U.S. as an undocumented person and was frequently arrested for prostitution and drug possession. After recovering from her heroin addiction, she decided to dedicate her life to activism. While the Director Policy at GMHC, the first organization in the world dedicated to HIV/AIDS prevention, she helped pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA). She was also the co-founder of the DecrimNY campaign to decriminalize sex work and a lobbyist for the repeal of the “Walking while trans law,” which was used to discriminately arrest transgender women of color. She was also the co-founder of Cecilia’s Occupational Inclusion Network” (COIN) clinic, which was the first healthcare center for sex workers in the East Coast; and the founder of Trans Equity Consulting to fight for trans women of color, immigrants, sex workers, and incarcerated people. She also became known for filing a lawsuit against former President Trump’s removal of non-discrimination protections for gender identity in the Affordable Care Act. She passed away as the result of drug overdose in 2024 and continues to be remembered as a groundbreaking activist for transgender people and sex workers.

Indya Moore

Indya Moore, who uses they and she pronouns, was born in 1995 in the Bronx and is a transgender and nonbinary model of Haitian, Puerto Rican, and Dominican ancestry. They left home to escape their parents’ transphobia and entered the foster care system. Due to frequent bullying, they dropped out of high school and began working as a model when they were 15 years old. They did shoots for Dior and Gucci before turning to acting and making their film debut in the movie Saturday Church. They rose to prominence for their role as Angel Evangelista in the TV series Pose, which was recognized as the show with the largest cast of transgender actors ever for a scripted network series. Besides their creative work, they are a passionate advocate for transgender rights, especially for Black trans women, and the violence and discrimination they face everyday. They’ve also called out the harmful body standards that are blatant in the fashion industry, they have also been a huge advocate for Palestinian sovereignty, an end to Israeli occupation in Palestine, and support for the queer Palestinian community.

Jennicet Gutiérrez

Jennicet Gutiérrez was born in Jalisco, Mexico in 1986 and immigrated to the U.S. with her family when she was just 15 years old for safety and economic opportunity. As an undocumented immigrant, she learned to write and speak English and realized how much work there was to be done for transgender and immigrant rights. In 2015, she rose to prominence in the nation when she interrupted former President Obama at a White House reception that was celebrating the LGBTQIA+ community, as she felt that there was a huge disconnect between mainstream activism and activism carried out by grassroots organizations aimed at helping transgender and immigrant communities. In response, she founded La Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, a nonprofit that advocates for total liberation for queer Latinas through community organizing, advocating, and education. She regularly hosts demonstrations, rallies, dialogues, and fundraisers to assist undocumented transgender women of color being held in oppressive and discriminatory conditions in detention centers at the border. For her work supporting immigrant trans women, she was named on Out magazine’s Out100 list in 2015.

Jillian Mercado

Jillian Mercado is a disabled actress, advocate, and model of Dominican descent She is currently one of the few models who works with a visible physical disability or uses a wheelchair in the professional fashion industry. Born in New York, she was diagnosed with spastic muscular dystrophy as a young girl. After attending the Fashion Institution of Technology in New York with a degree fashion merchandising, she began modeling for brands like Diesel, Nordstrom, Target, and Vogue. She has also worked in the entertainment industry as an actress, starring in The L Word: Generation Q as Maribel. Beyond being a trailblazer for the disabled community in fashion, she is also a vocal advocate for resisting harmful and unrealistic beauty ideals, increasing representation for disabled people, and fighting against stigma and violence. In 2018, she met with the United Nations to discuss working towards equality and justice for disabled girls and women of color and more awareness around the issues and challenges they face.

Sonia Guiñansaca

Sonia Guiñansaca, who uses they/them pronouns, is a poet, organizer, and activist who was born in Ecuador. They immigrated to Harlem, New York when they were only five years old to reunite with their parents, who were undocumented. From then on, they were completely dedicated to working and organizing in migrant undocumented communities. As a college student, they pursued a degree in Africana Puerto Rican Latino Studies and Women and Gender Studies in order to combine policy with art and culture to bring about social change. They became known for creating the first writing workshops by and for undocumented writers, the first and only national writing retreat for undocumented writers called UndocuWriters Retreat, and an online archival project centering on the work of undocumented immigrants. In addition to self-publishing their original poetry, they edited the highly successful anthology Somewhere We Are Human, which features the work of writers who are either currently undocumented or were formerly undocumented to spotlight the issues the community faces when it comes to migration, assimilation, and language. Throughout all of their activism and advocacy, they focus on cultural equality, migrant rights, climate change, LGBTQIA+ rights, and gender violence and discrimination.

X Gonzalez 

X Gonzalez, who uses they/them pronouns, was born and raised in Florida to a Cuban immigrant father. As a high schooler, they were president of their campus’s Gay–straight alliance (GSA) organization. They rose to national prominence after surviving the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting by taking cover in the school auditorium. In the weeks following the shooting, where 17 people were killed and 17 were injured, they met with Florida state legislators, criticized the National Rifle Association of America (NRA) during an internationally televised town hall hosted by CNN, and gave several speeches that later went on viral on social media. In collaboration with other Parkland survivors, they founded the gun-control advocacy group Never Again MSD, which advocates for stricter gun control regulations and restrictions and organized the first national March for Our Lives protest in 2018. As a result of their efforts, the Florida Legislature passed a bill titled the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, which raised the minimum age for buying guns to 21, established waiting period and background check, banned bump stocks, and banned violent and mentally ill people from possessing firearms. Also in 2018, they were included in Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2018 and continue to advocate for greater gun control laws and policies.

William Brandon Lacy Campos

Born in 1977 in Minnesota, William Brandon Lacy Campos was a writer and LGBTQIA+ and HIV/AIDS activist of Ojibwe, Black, and Puerto Rican descent. He came from a long line of advocates including his great-great uncle Carter G. Woodson, who was the second Black man to be awarded a doctorate from Harvard University and the founder of Black History Month. After graduating from the University of Minnesota with a degree in political science, he began his career as an activist as a board member of the Audre Lorde Project, a co-chair of the National Queer Student Coalition, and the co-executive director of Queers for Economic Justice, where he advocated for LGBTQIA+ rights in New York City. He also worked with Volttage, a dating service dedicated to eliminating stigma surround HIV/AIDS and providing support to HIV-positive community members. As a writer, he frequently wrote about Black masculinity, youth activism, and nonviolent resistance in his collection of poetry called It Ain’t Truth if it Doesn’t Hurt and he contributed to the critically acclaimed anthology From Macho to Mariposa: New Gay Latino Fiction (2011). “I am standing in front of you a Black, white, Ojibwe, Afro-Boricua, HIV positive, queer man,” Campos said in a speech for Tuft University’s annual Black Solidarity Day. “And I am just as Black as any of you. You are my community, you are my salvation. I am in community with my queer and trans black family and being queer or trans doesn’t make you less black than anyone else.” He died on Nov. 9, 2012 at the age of 35.

Amaranta Gómez Regalado

Amaranta Gómez Regalado is a social anthropologist, HIV prevention activist, and queer and Indigenous rights activist who was born in 1977 in Mexico in a Zapotec village in the state of Oaxaca. She identifies as Muxe, which is a person who is assigned male at birth who dresses and behaves in stereotypically feminine ways. In Zapotec culture, Muxe is considered a third gender. From an early age, she took on the new name of Amaranta after a character in Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. As a student, she traveled around southern Mexico as part of a drag performance show. She later became disabled after being in a car accident that fractured her left arm, which had to be amputated. She studied social anthropology at the University of Veracruz, which later pushed her toward a career in activism. Throughout her life, she called for the decriminalization of marijuana and abortion, as well as greater visibility and freedom for Indigenous peoples in Mexico. In 2003, when she was 25, she became the first Muxe person to run as a candidate for Federal Congress under the México Posible party. Though she didn’t win, she continues to promote comprehensive sexual education in schools, especially when it comes to content about gender diversity, and to fight for Indigenous and transgender rights across the country. There is a school in Santiago, Chile named after her, which is recognized as the first primarily transgender school in Latin America.

Pedro Zamora 

Pedro Zamora was born in Cuba in 1972 and immigrated to the U.S. with his family when he was 8 years old during the Mariel boatlift. Growing up in the U.S., he faced many challenges, including being separated from several of his siblings. After coming out as gay when he was 14, he was accepted by his father but wasn’t educated about safe sex or HIV/AIDS prevention. Three years later when he was 17, he found out that he was HIV-positive, which spurred him to become a passionate full-time HIV/AIDS educator. He gave lectures all across the country at schools and was also featured in interviews with talk show hosts like Oprah. In 1993, he decided to testify in Congress to advocate for more HIV/AIDS programs for the gay community. To further spread his message, he began starring on the MTV reality showThe Real World, where he formed a romantic relationship with Sean Sasser. They went through with a commitment ceremony in 1994, which became the first same-sex of its kind ceremony in television history. He eventually succumbed to his illness and died that same year but has been recognized by important figures like former President Bill Clinton for his commitment to humanizing HIV-positive people, especially in the Latinx community, and raising awareness about the illness. In 2019, he was honored by the Stonewall Inn by being inducted into the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor.

Bamby Salcedo

Bamby Salcedo is a transgender activist who was born in Guadalajara, Mexico. Throughout her childhood, she experienced high rates of poverty, abuse, and stimgatization. As she grew up, she ran into trouble with gangs, drugs, and crime, and ended up being arrested and sent to rehabilitation facility. After enduring persecution for her gender identity, she immigrated to California with her father and began her journey toward healing and rehabilitation. She earned a Master’s in Latin American Studies from Cal State LA, which kicked off her career as a social justice activist. She is a founder for the TransLatin@ Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for the rights of trans Latinas and intersex immigrant women and fights against systematic oppression and discrimination. It offers resources to help members navigate immigration, education, employment, healthcare, and violence and has grown to operate chapters in 10 states in the U.S. She also produced the Angels for Change Runway Show to give trans and gender non-conforming youth to develop personal and professional skills. She has even given speeches at The White House to advocate for greater equality and rights for trans and immigrant people.

Catiria Reyes

Catiria Reyes, also known as Lady Catiria, was born in 1959 in Puerto Rico and became known as a drag transgender performer, actress, beauty contestant, and HIV/AIDS awareness advocate. After immigrating to the U.S., she started her career when she was 19 years old as an impersonator. Later, she developed a loyal following at La Escuelita, a gay club in Manhattan where she would put on lip-synching performances. She also participated in drag beauty pageants and won the Miss Continental Plus pageant for large-bodied trans and drag women in 1993. She later made a cameo in the film To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar about three New York drag queens who on a road trip. At the 1996 Miss Continental show, she announced that she was HIV-positive and wore a dress with an AIDS ribbon in rhinestones as the collar along with a matching red crown. Up until her death, she dedicated the rest of her life to HIV/AIDS awareness and education to prevent other people in the community from suffering from the same illness. Her impact on the drag community and wider influence on the gay NYC community continues to be felt today by fellow drag queens and transgender performers. They credit her as their mentor, friend, and inspiration to participate in pageants and also raise awareness about HIV/AIDS.

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