Creativity for equality

Creativity+for+equality

Sergio Zamora

Valerie Herrera, Staff Reporter

In an effort to raise awareness and support for the LGBTQ community, the Women’s and Gender Studies Program collaborated to create the “Engendering Community,” which aims to reveal challenges and areas of resilience brought amongst LGBTQ individuals in the El Paso and Juárez borderland.

In 2010, Dr. Brenda Risch, director of  Women’s and Gender Studies Program, took the initiative into exploring the complexities of various LGBTQ persons on both sides of the border.

“I felt LGBTQ history wasn’t being recorded and I wanted to take initiative into collecting and preserving that data because I was in the position to do it,” Risch said.

By conducting interviews with more than 100 participants, the project first started off as a women and gender studies oral history project, where participants and students spoke about concerns dealing with family, identity, religion and activism pertaining to their experiences as a member of the LGBTQ community.

Because colleges and universities stand at the forefront of pushing progressive policies and support for students, campuses remain the ideal candidates for initiating movements and promoting change in the realm of social justice.

Risch said having people tell their stories was a very important and powerful thing to acknowledge and that universities are supposed to empathize as well as expand on new information.

“We felt it was necessary to give a voice to these people and allow them to share their own truths rather than have outsiders make their own assumptions,” Risch said.

Research conducted by the women’s and gender studies showed that LGBTQ concerns are progressively becoming an openly accepted subject to talk about as more individuals have been increasingly coming forth to participate in the study in recent years.

As current Texas legislative proposals appear to be discriminating and actively working against the rights of LGBTQ individuals, the issue has become a hot topic and will become more so when election season rolls around.

During the last legislative session, nearly two-dozen pieces of legislation failed to pass which would have allowed discrimination against LGBT people. Legislators also introduced bills that would have toughened Texas’ Religious Freedom Restoration Act and prohibit the issuance of marriage licenses for same-sex couples.

Risch said Texas is not the best state at protecting diverse people struggling with gender identity.

“Social and academic development is tied to leadership and though there is good support involved, more engaged leadership is needed,” Risch said.

Since religion is significantly tied to the Hispanic culture and deeply rooted in the El Paso and Juarez region, many border residents turn to religion and spirituality to cope with life’s challenges. 

However, according to research conducted by the Engendering Community project, many LGBTQ citizens from the local community encounter discrimination due to strict religious beliefs that result in rejection and lead to a complete loss of faith and/or shame in some cases.

Joshua Lopez, a UTEP graduate student majoring in English and American literature, LGBTQ community member and women’s studies research assistant, said the project champions the cause by making the history of their presence known in hopes of gaining acceptance and understanding.

“The notion of this project was to illuminate El Paso on the experiences of the LGBTQ community in the El Paso and Juárez borderlands,” Lopez said. “The community and UTEP students learn that we have our presence in history, and we are trying to implement what is rightfully ours.

In an effort to acknowledge the Engendering Community project, the Centennial Museum will be showcasing an exhibit displaying donated items that LGTBQ members associated with their experiences from June to Sept. 19. 

The project, along with the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, will also participate in other future events to be held later this year that involve discussions associated with current policy changes that include Texas LGBTQ rights forum, tolerance lectures and poetry reading workshops. 

“Telling and hearing stories are important. They allow us to give voice to those who were voiceless, make that which was invisible visible and allow us to gain new perspectives,” Lopez said. “It all starts though listening and engaging with our stories.”

Valerie Herrera may be reached at [email protected]