“The Human Rights Campaign is a celebration of humanity … it’s a group dedicated to creating awareness about gay and lesbian rights,” my friend Malia explained to me. She had just asked me to hold her hand–and not in the way you might assume–at her first gay-networking happy hour. I agreed; partly because she puts up with getting hit on by dirty, grungy boys at the regular bars we go to. But mostly because I needed to go; I wanted to find Carlos and ask him to do an interview.
A month or so before the HRC happy hour, I had met Carlos at a champagne-filled day at the Beacon, also known as Sunday Funday. Upon being introduced, he asked me to make-out with him. This seemed like a strange proposal considering I had thought he was gay. No, Malia had told me he was gay. So politely and not knowing of how to respond to such an offer, I declined. By the look on his face when I said, “No thanks,” I gathered this might not have happened before. Now that I look back, I’m positive it probably hasn’t because Carlos is extremely handsome and captivating. He also is someone you find yourself wanting to be around all the time. I rejected his offer because I was caught off guard; but I can understand why most men and women would not.
Carlos is a frontrunner for the Human Rights Campaign Orlando chapter. When he isn’t working his full-time job as the VP for a marketing company; he volunteers and connects people to their community—the gay community. As someone who has watched their friend suffer from the pressures of an intolerant society, I wanted to know more. More importantly, I wanted to know how I could help.
That is how I ended up the only straight person at an HRC happy hour. Malia thought there’d be other straight people there (at least that it is what she said) but there wasn’t. Often it feels awkward to be the minority in any given situation, but surprisingly this wasn’t the case. I made new friends, successfully set-up this interview, caught a nice buzz and all the while learned about our community—the one I had never taken the time to notice before. (I also was able to solve a mystery that had been bothering me for some time: the blue, square sticker with a yellow equal sign is not a high-school crew team—it’s the logo for the HRC.)
Jana: So we have to talk about the hair thing one more time before we kill it …
Carlos: No, it’s fine. The hair is very important.
It’s just that you’ve had long curly hair for six years and you chopped it all off. Why the change?
It was a mixture of things. I started realizing I was defined by my hair. You know how I can be; I’m all over the place. I’m like an entertainer and the hair became a prop. I don’t want to simply be the one to entertain people anymore. I just want to ground myself a little bit more.
So how have you felt not having “The Hair”?
Well, it’s only been three days. Everybody tells me I look a lot younger, and I’ve always wanted to look older, look more mature and have more weight … so I don’t know. I am getting a lot of compliments.
Can you describe yourself in five words?
Do I have to string a sentence together? [Laughs] I’m gregarious … that’s too much of an SAT word. I’m funny, I’m an entertainer and I’m an overall good person to know, at any level.
I have a big penis. [Laughs] Kidding! Jana, you’re turning all red.
[Laughs] So state your position regarding the Human Rights Campaign?
It’s a volunteer position, so I don’t get paid — I have a day job. I am part of the Steering Committee and for about three years have been organizing events locally.
It’s the largest civil rights organization working towards equality at all levels for gays and lesbians, bisexual and transgender Americans.
What I noticed from my experience at an HRC event was passion. It’s nice to see people passionate about anything, especially something life altering like human rights. How did you get involved with HRC?
I was helping out with the Kerry/Edwards campaign. It was so disappointing experiencing defeat after months and months of working on it. I felt passionate about what was going on politically at that time. Being a naturalized citizen, and as corny as it sounds, literally, proud to be an American, it’s frustrating to know that people are working against the betterment of society for their own natural gain … I needed to channel my energies. I met Jennifer Foster who is the co-chair of the Steering Committee for the HRC community in Orlando. It was at the ground level when I started. A few of us started doing events and fundraisers and have gotten it to where it is now. It’s perfect for me to do these events because I like to bring people together — I’m a maven, a connector. Oh, that can go on the top of list of the five words: connector … scratch out big penis. [Laughs]
Done. This year was the first presidential forum in which the candidates addressed the gay community. It was sponsored by the HRC and was shown on the Logo channel, which has only been available to Orlando’s cable package for a year, right?
Yes. It brought me chills. The HRC Orlando community had an official viewing party.
Obviously it was a successful jump for the community?
Absolutely. It is very telling that HRC and Logo approached all the Republican candidates and none of them even replied. None of them even filled out a survey to show where they stood on gay issues. So it goes to show that as complacent as we all are; we live in a fantasy world. Orlando is the 7th largest gay populations in the country per capita, yet we’re still ignored, we still are beaten/ murdered, we still get denied access to jobs and job benefits, simply because we are gay. It’s unfair.
I had no idea Orlando is the 7th largest gay population.
Yeah, the 7th per capita. It’s not that it’s huge, but for the percentage of the population it’s pretty large.
Well, why I even find that shocking is because I’ve heard Orlando lacks a gay scene. Do you agree with that?
I think there is a scene here to a degree, though it’s a bit clickish. You have the older, more established, quote unquote more affluent gays, who are working and living in downtown Orlando. Then you have the majority who are in the hospitality industry, working at Disney, the suburbs and in the south part of Orlando and they’re transient. Even for straight people, the hospitality industry people have different schedules than professionals and the rest of the World really. Because of this, they tend to keep to themselves. Regretfully, the majority of gay people in our city is in that industry and not entrenched in the Orlando community.
How can one become involved with HRC?
All you have to do is come to one our monthly socials called HRC Connects, and be vocal. You should also have to have it in you; you can’t be the kind of person that is told, “Ok, come help us. This is what you need to do.” The passion has to come from within, and you have to have a basis of understanding that even one person can make a difference.
Absolutely not. Whether it’s controversial or whatever, change is going to happen because of those within the religious community, Republicans and straight allies. It’s like the civil rights movement; alongside the black people were white people and the community of faith. It wasn’t all blacks trying to beat the system and fight the man. The same thing is going to happen with change for the gay community.
So you believe it’s needs to be a combined effort?
Yes, it’s going to take a couple things. It’s going to take more gay people coming out and being honest with their friends and their peers. They need to understand their families love them and they’re not all going to give up on them. That’s how society is going to change; starting within the nucleus.
Publisher of Venus magazine for lesbians for the past 30 years, Charlene Cothran, has just recently aired herself on The 700 Club to voice she has come back to God and is now straight again. How does this affect your community?
She is a human being. Who knows, maybe she is heartbroken? Maybe she is disillusioned? But the gay community is very damaged. It’s not a pity party, but the gay community is oppressed. Unlike any other ethnic group, sometimes we don’t even have our families to rally for us. When you have no hope you engage in destructive activities, In the gay communities there are high rates of drug abuse. Anyone that’ll tell you differently is lying. And it’s just because of that lack of hope: you don’t think you can get married, you don’t think you can have a family, are you going to be accepted? Can you survive? Therefore you engage in the moment; whatever satisfies those primitive urges. If she, for example, was exposed to that, over and over again, and she experienced enough heartache to the point where she says, “I’m done,” and claims to have found God, quote unquote, it’s very clear that that’s probably what happened.
Do you think it’s possible to switch your sexual orientation like that?
I don’t think it’s possible, although, I’m a firm believer in the fluidity of sexuality.
What part does faith and religion play into it?
Religion plays a huge part, if your religion is one that skews scripture in order to subjugate anything that’s considered immoral. When things are considered immoral, it’s because you need to control the masses and there are things that are detrimental. Now at some point, homosexuality, was considered detrimental to the family unit and became demonized, much like divorce and many other things. I think society in general, nowadays, is progressive enough to understand that just because gays get married, not everyone around us is going to want to get divorced. That’s ridiculous. It’s completely the opposite; we should foster the idea of people being together and experiencing the same thing as heterosexuals. But the religious community holds on to old notions when it comes to gays.
It seems there are more and more positive examples of same gender relationships that are lasting ten years, a life time, even longer than most heterosexual relationships. Where are your thoughts with this?
Culture and societies change. For example, the Romans and the Greeks had a totally different view on homosexuality. I’m not saying they were healthy, it centered on the patriarch dominating women, men and youth. It had nothing to do with true healthy gay relationships. And if you want to go back to the primitive urges, people want to hook up with people, bottom line, but within those people there are people who want to fall in love, even within the same gender. I can have sex with a woman, but I could never be in love with a woman … I mean truly in love, forever and ever.
What is your personal experience with discrimination if any?
In my naïve times, in the mid ‘90’s, my ex and I would go out, walk up and down the beach and go to the movies holding hands; we thought we could take on the world. We had several people heckle us. A lot of people get heckled for whatever reason, but for someone to yell the word “faggot” at you while you are helpless is extremely degrading. I feel like I have intact self-esteem, but when someone yells that, it’s like, “Wow, I must be horrible if it’s OK for someone to yell out something like that.” We can’t use the “N” word anymore, thank God, and you don’t yell hooker or slut all the time to someone … so it’s sad. I’ve also witnessed a gay bashing in New York and it was a straight friend of mine who had gone to a gay bar with me. We had left the bar, when an SUV came up and the people in it started yelling “faggot” and “queer”. We kept walking but my straight friend started talking back, he had never been exposed to anything like this. They rushed in and started beating him. Another innocent guy that was walking by ended up getting beaten too. When the cops showed up, I said, “Look, this a gay bashing but the irony is he’s not even gay.” That was eye opening because I don’t wear a dress, well not all the time [Laughs], so you wouldn’t know I was gay unless I came out of gay bar or I was holding someone’s hand. Does that give someone the right to come beat the shit out of me? It’s wrong. A lot of people get discriminated against, however I don’t think anyone should be discriminated against for the mere fact that they are being who they are. Twenty years from now we’re going to look back and say, “Wow, I can’t believe this happened.” And to be a part of that movement now; I’d think anyone would want to jump into it. I mean, there are people being denied into the military. We are at war and in a time when we need people and there are people who want to go fight and take the chance of dying for their country, but no, they can’t simply because they’re gay; it’s ridiculous, and it’s hurting our society.
Wow. That is crazy to think about.
It’s horrid. The first American wounded in Iraq was gay, Eric Alva. I met him, he came here and spoke. He’s part of the movement.
Was he openly gay and in the military?
He was not. He lost a leg and use of one arm and was honorably discharged. I met another gay person who was in the military, Antonio Agnone. He decided to not re-enlist because he had a partner. Like many others, if he re-enlisted and something happened they would not notify their partners nor would they receive survivor benefits.
Explain Pride events to me. I feel like it’s a summer long tour of partying.[Laughs] It started in New York. In the 1960’s, the bar Stonewall would have drag shows and every once in a while, the cops would do raids on gay bars (wearing more than two articles of clothing of the opposite sex was a crime back then). Finally, the drag queens had had enough because they felt like they were being criminalized when they weren’t doing anything wrong; they carried a liquors license and no one underage was drinking. So one time when the cops raided they began to throw everything they had at the cops, like shoes and stuff. It progressed eventually into a riot; it was the gay community standing up for it self. So the first big Pride Parade was in San Francisco to commemorate the event, the people wanted to march and basically show their pride. In turned out to be dykes on bikes, people in leather, blah blah blah, but it showed that we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it mentality. So it became in June that people would celebrate and be visible. I think the visibility is needed to ensure that we do exist. There’s different schools of thought about it, even in the gay community, is Gay Pride necessary? Is it too bold? Is it offensive? Is it hurting us? But you know what, the most important thing is to be out and make people understand you are a gay person and you’re just like anybody else. I don’t go up and down thinking I’m Latino, you know? We all have flaws, but being gay is not a flaw. I’m a person; I think a fairly good person.
So who do you think is next on the oppression list?
Considering Americans are becoming obese, I imagine the prejudice will happen against them. There already are preconceived notions against fat people, like not being able to perform the same jobs as others. Bottom line, we’re all just a shell. I’m agnostic, so it’s not like I truly believe in a soul or an essence. But we’re all in the same boat; we’re all going to freakin’ croak some day. We all suffer. We all are utterly alone. We all get depressed. We understand what each other goes through. We all are searching for the meaning of life. We should all rally and support each other. I don’t know; maybe one day that’ll happen … a utopia.
And you want to be the one to connect them all?
Yes. [Laughs] I like that; that was good.
Interview Date 8/25/07