FeaturesLatinx Leaders

Fighting for Houston’s Queer Youth

Fighting for Houston’s Queer Youth SOMOS LOUD refuses to stay silent.

 

Jalil Cantarero (l), Jonatan Gioia, and Hiram Rivera-Mercado (Photo by Alex Rosa for OutSmart Magazine)

For Jonatan Gioia, helping those who are underrepresented in his community has been a longtime goal. That passion has now led him to SOMOS LOUD (translated as “We are LOUD”), an organization helping queer Latinx youth.

“I want to see our beautiful Latinx community united and conscious of our socio-political power,” he says. “We need to continue fighting for Latinx representation across the board.”

LOUD is actually an acronym referring to the Latinx Outreach and Understanding Division, an affinity group created by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF). The volunteer-based organization strives to educate, motivate, and advocate for the Latinx community.

Serving as the national organization’s director for advocacy, Gioia helps oversee the group’s educational messaging and capacity-building for local chapters across the nation.

“We support the Houston community with a wide range of initiatives,” he says, “from back-to-school drives, event sponsorships, and community collaborations to networking and recreational events with a strong educational purpose. We have a big heart for advocacy!

“We promote education and provide resources for people to get tested for HIV and other STIs, get on PrEP, or access HIV treatment. We aim to fight the stigma around HIV and replace it with education and empowerment while creating non-judgmental spaces for people to express themselves freely. We are proud of working side-by-side with so many great advocates. Somos LOUD, somos familia.”

LOUD has grown tremendously in Houston over the past few years, and Gioia hopes to continue this growth by providing more community events for people to come together and embrace their individuality.

“During the COVID-19 lockdown, we helped many Latinx organizations, distributed resources all over town, and found ways to continue engaging with the community while the world was turned upside down,” he emphasizes.

“As it opened up again, we started having more in-person events. We are proud to host ‘Juntes’—Houston’s Latinx queer festival— every year in November. We had an amazing Latinx queer poetry night with vendors and entertainment last year. This year’s theme is Queerciañera, so we are planning a little gala for everyone to embrace the queer quinceañera they’ve always dreamed of.”

Gioia sees his role as someone who builds spaces for people to celebrate and learn about their Latin identity. “We do our best to uplift Latinx voices and embrace the diversity within our community,” he notes. “At the end of the day, my community work is a love letter to the queer community, to my Latinx immigrant identity, and to Houston. “

That diversity is exactly what makes Houston such a special, unique place for Gioia to work in. “When I heard about a job offer in Houston, I thought I would find cowboys, cacti, and rockets. I was pleasantly surprised to meet a vibrant, diverse community. Diversity makes my daily experience an educational roller-coaster. I always say Houston for me is a salad bowl rather than a melting pot. There is not just one Houston identity that blends together. Like in a salad, each ingredient is visible and brings a unique flavor to the whole. I could not be happier to be part of this city.”

Gioia sees the Supreme Court’s recent anti-abortion ruling, which is sending fear through the LGBTQ community, as a sign that the fight is far from over.

“Our LGBTQ+ community is resilient, creative, and outspoken. We cannot stay silent.”

For more on SOMOS LOUD, visit somosloud.org.

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Connor Behrens

Connor Behrens is a communications graduate from the University of Houston. He has written for the Washington Post, Community Impact Newspaper and the Galveston County Daily News (the oldest newspaper in Texas). When he's not writing stories, he is likely watching the latest new release at the movie theater.
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