EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The LGBTQ+ community is honoring its legacy during LGBTQ History month by examining the current state of issues such as discrimination and looking ahead to the future.
A new study from the Center for American Progress reports many LGBTQ+ people in the United States continue to face discrimination in a multitude of forms that include personal lives, the workplace, the public sphere and access to health care.
KTSM 9 News spoke with leaders, advocates, and members of the LGBTQ+ community in El Paso to discuss discrimination in the Borderland. They discussed the importance of recognizing discrimination in El Paso, and the challenges of doing so.
“How internalized must that oppression be that you don’t even realize it?” asks Daisy Marquez, a recent UTEP graduate who identifies as a queer woman.
According to the study by the Center for American Progress, more than 30 percent of LGBTQ Americans experienced discrimination in some form within the last year.
More than 60 percent of transgender Americans reported discrimination during the same time period.
Brenda Risch, director of the Borderland Rainbow Center, told KTSM that El Paso must confront biases in order to achieve equity within the community.
“There’s still a lot of employment discriminaton, especially against non-gender conforming and transgender people,” she says. “This city is still pretty traditional in how it perceives and what it thinks is acceptable gender expression.”
The Center for American Progress reports that more than half of LGBTQ+ respondents experienced harassment or discrimination in a public place.
“I always — always — check my surroundings in the sense that I might try to say something here and there to see if that person is accepting of queer people, or if they’re not — and you can easily tell,” says Marquez.
One example is gendered language.
“People ask, ‘Do you have a boyfriend’ instead of ‘Do you have a partner,’” says Marquez.
“You realize that somebody doesn’t think about queer people in general — or — this person is knowledgeable that someone might be queer.”
Intolerance for people who are gender nonconforming and transgender leads many in the LGBTQ+ community to conceal relationships.
More than half of LGBTQ+ Americans report hiding a personal relationship to avoid experiencing discrimination.
Marquez recalls being stared at harshly while walking hand-in-hand with her partner at the mall, but that the glares are expected.
“I learned to look down or look away so I don’t make eye contact with someone who thinks I’m disgusting for holding the hand of someone I love,” she says.
One in five LGBTQ+ Americans report that discrimination has negatively affected their mental health.
More than 60 percent of individuals who are transgender report experiencing significantly higher rates of distress caused by gender discrimination.
“People make assumptions that folks are suffering because they made bad choices, or because they’re lazy, or because they’re irresponsible,” says Risch. “I think before you jump to those conclusions, you should find out what’s really going on.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed disparities that contribute to discrimination, while also compounding existing challenges. Risch says that El Paso has serious issues of employment and housing discrimination; without a job or place to live, it’s impossible to function in society.
“It becomes very hard to feel safe or interact with others,” says Risch. “Having no address means there’s a lot of things you can’t participate in.”
Additionally, members of the LBGTQ+ community in El Paso face barriers to health care that students and advocates are working to mitigate.
The Pride Alliance at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso was created to raise awareness about LGBTQ+ issues in the community, while also providing valuable services to the Borderland.
Derek Sanchez, president of Pride Alliance and a student at the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine, says the student-led organization unites students with the goal to create safe and inclusive spaces for LGBTQ+ individuals on campus and to educate allies across the Borderland.
“We make efforts to educate our peers about milestones in the LGBTQ community, as well as health disparities that a lot of people aren’t familiar with,” Sanchez said.
“We’re trying to create more compassionate and knowledgeable medical professionals so there’s more representation out there,” he added.
Transgender people face many obstacles to health care, which can make the process of transitioning difficult and isolating.
“There are a lot of medical professionals who aren’t comfortable or knowledgable working with those patients,” says Sanchez. “It’s important to know them.”
Andy Tiscareno, a transgender woman and English major at UTEP, said she did not realize the intolerance and discrimination she would face when she began to transition.
Tiscareno said that she was misgendered while presenting as female, which made her feel uncomfortable in correctly identifying herself to others. She says that now she isn’t afraid to correct people.
“I just outright say, ‘I think you meant ‘she,’” Tiscareno said.
It’s not easy, said Tiscareno, but she has found strength in community through support groups and her sorority sisters at UTEP.
“We’re not the big, scary predators that some people would want to think we are,” she said of misconceptions and intolerance of transgender people.
Tiscareno explained that at the beginning of her transition, she avoided talking about her past or would create alternative histories as a female, which the Center for American Progress says occurs in as much as 30 percent of the LGTBQ+ community.
As time went on, however, she says she’s grown more comfortable and confident in who she is.
Today, she helps inform others by sharing her experience.
“I’m open about my experiences, I’m open about my transition — and people have changed their perspective on trans people through that,” she says.
Despite the challenges and risks of not subscribing cisgender or heteronormative identities, Tiscareno said letting go of the expectations is liberating.
“Let go of who you never were, and allow yourself to be who you want to be.”
For a look back at LGBT+ history, check out our interactive timeline: Celebrating LGBTQ+ History: Timeline.