‘Pride Without Borders’ conference was a life-changing experience that began with a cup of coffee
By Melissa Quintero Velasco
People often say that “life begins after a cup of coffee” and because of coffee, I was part of Pride Without Borders (or #OrgulloSinFronteras), a binational LGBT conference; one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had.
At the beginning of this year, I received a message from Esmeralda Flores (Immigrant Rights and Binational Affairs Advocate for the San Diego ACLU) inviting me to have coffee and talk about an LGBT project involving the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana, The LGBT Center, San Diego Pride, the office of San Diego City Councilmember Georgette Gomez and the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. I was intrigued but at the same time I didn’t want to get too excited, because I felt maybe I did not have much experience working in the community or I was not familiar enough with the current dynamics.
Nevertheless, after 16 weeks of planning, the Pride Without Borders conference was held in Tijuana at the Instituto Tecnológico de Tijuana on Saturday, May 19. Approximately 200 people attended the conference, which was a pleasant surprise because we were expecting about 140 people. Something else that was cool about the conference was that it had sign language interpreters, which is very rare in Mexico or at least in Tijuana. It was an example of efforts to be as inclusive as possible.
From the start, we decided the conference should have an artistic component, since the LGBTQ community uses art to express their struggle and identity. We included an art exhibition by Alejandra Smith and other border artists. We also had fragments of the play “Meztli- TRANSitar” — produced by the TALTECAN Cultural Collective A.C. and Alianza Arco Iris de San Diego y Tijuana — that addresses the history of trans people.
Another highly successful part of the conference was the “Identity Panel: Diversity and Intersectionality,” which explored the diverse identities of the LGBTQ community, the challenges found on the border and the vision the panelists had to improve LGBTQ lives in Tijuana. Finally, some of the attendees formed work groups to discuss possible projects that would achieve a positive change in the quality of life of the LGBTQ border community. This will be part of the follow-up by the Organizing Committee for #OrgulloSinFronteras 2019.
The work it took to organize this event was not easy. It started in February. The goal was to get folks to form an organizing committee that would plan the conference; always considering everyone’s input, suggestions, ideas and voting for each of the activities that would lead to the conference. The best thing about each meeting was seeing new people joining and bringing new ideas, but what stood out the most in them was their creativity, organization, voice, the way they stood their ground, the place they have in this world, facing their struggles; this undoubtedly nurtured the group with enthusiasm and good experiences. Many started this process but as it normally happens a few folks took different paths.
During this process, personal questions kept arising. I would analyze what made me feel lost or what areas I needed to research in more detail. Far from focusing on me, I thought about the participants and several questions came to my mind: what topics do we want to address in the conference? Which would be of interest? Should they be merely informative or in-depth analysis? At the end, once we had the main theme, the line-up of panelists and especially when we realized the impact that the conference could have in the community, I thought “this will be super cool, this is worth it and we must continue working for this project.”
When it was decided that we wanted Jessica Marjane as our main speaker, I realized that I knew little about her which generated doubts on my researcher side. After extensive research, I was very surprised with all the work she had done. Jessica is the executive coordinator of the collective “Red de Juventudes Trans Mexico,” a transgender youth activist group formed in 2014 that proposes changes in the areas of education, health, identity and public policies. I knew that Jessica’s experience and activism would create the perfect atmosphere at the conference. Jessica opened the conference talking about the struggle of transgender people in Mexico and she also moderated some sessions, making sure to create a safe and respectful space throughout the conference. It was great to learn that after several years of struggle, Jessica voted in the recent presidential elections in Mexico with her official ID reflecting her identity, just a few months after the conference.
Despite all my doubts and questions, I know the meetings, the multiple emails and some uncomfortable moments were worth it. As I mentioned, we had more attendees than expected, the atmosphere was always pleasant and the public was interested and engaged in the various issues. And better yet, they were interested in joining and continuing this long-term project. I had the opportunity to meet spectacular, hardworking, bold, open minded activists, who were on this path with me; always with the firm purpose of improving our lives, learning about all the deviations, obstacles, limitations that exist in our presence. To battle homophobia, we must learn more about gender and sexual orientation to face the challenges that we encounter as a cross-border community.
This was one of the best experiences of my life. I saw another side of life, where all of us have the same rights and freedoms, without any distinction of race, color, gender, language, political or religious affiliation or nationality. Pride Without Borders (#OrgulloSinFronteras) left me as a free spirited lesbian woman. Thanks to everyone!