On June 12, 2016, Orlando’s queer Latinx community lost a gathering space for socializing, dancing, celebrating, and just being without judgment. In the days after the Pulse Nightclub shooting, the LGBTQ community came together in living rooms and backyards across Central Florida to find community, safety, and a sense of grounding. That’s when QLatinx was formed.
“We found for the first time the ability to connect with one another in a way that was linguistically accessible, culturally accessible,” said Christopher Cuevas, QLatinx’s executive director.
The impromptu support groups that formed in the wake of the Pulse tragedy soon evolved into a holistic examination of how the local LGBTQ community could be more inclusive. One of the gaps that local leaders quickly recognized was a lack of support for Orlando’s diverse immigrant community. With that, QLatinx was formed by members of the LGBTQ community who were personally impacted by immigration policy.
“For our undocumented community, there was a sense of hesitation and fear in coming forward and trying to get any kind of service or support, because they were afraid that their undocumented status would out them and they would be subjected to any kind of persecution, or harassment, or even potentially deportation,” Cuevas said.
QLatinx was able to work with a coalition of immigration organizations to pass a policy in Orlando — the Trust Act — that bars police and city officials from asking about a person’s immigration status.
Cuevas said the policy helps build trust between police and those who may be hesitant to report a crime because they’re undocumented. Orlando was the first city in the southeast U.S. to pass an ordinance like this.
Cuevas, the child of Mexican immigrants and migrant farm workers, grew up in a predominately Mexican and Haitian immigrant community in southwest Florida, between the Naples and Immokalee area. Cuevas’s mother was undocumented and that meant Cuevas grew up seeing the harsh condition that the family and other undocumented families had to endure – especially in the labor fields.
“The fear around the perils of immigration was so prevalent and shaped the way that I looked at the world and experienced the world,” Cuevas said.
Growing up as a queer person in rural Florida was tough, said Cuevas, who uses they/them/their pronouns. In 2010, they moved to Orlando, attended Valencia College and finished with an undergraduate degree in psychology at Rollins College.
In the aftermath of the Pulse shooting, Cuevas discovered a deep and authentic sense of community that they had not felt in Orlando before.
“We found a common language and a common faith (among) those of us who came from parents who immigrated to the U.S., individuals who recently immigrated to the U.S., individuals who were born in Puerto Rico and had moved to Central Florida to be with family and friends,” Cuevas said. “We could hear the diversity of the Spanish being intertwined with English and it was really, really dynamic in healing in the needed space.”
Beyond providing a safe space for the community, QLatinx also offers diversity and inclusion training for Orlando nonprofits and businesses that want to expand their diversity initiatives, job training, and HIV prevention efforts.
One of QLatinx’s popular programs is Community Cocina. During the monthly series, the group prepares food from Latin American, Central American, Caribbean, and indigenous traditions and celebrates history, culture, and music. Previous recipes have included Haitian rice with pork and El Salvadorian pupusas.
“We see individuals who have recently migrated to central Florida, who are coming to this program because it’s the first time that they’re seeing something like this and they wanna be able to build connections with the people in the community who come from the same background,” Cuevas said.
And it’s that connection to food, culture, and Orlando’s queer Latinx community that keeps them coming back for more.
Volunteers and financial donations are always welcome. QLatinx has many opportunities to get involved, whether you are interested in breaking down the criminalization and stigmatization around HIV, immigration policy, racial justice, or LGBTQ-focused issues. Subscribe to their newsletter or follow them on Facebook for programming updates.