Shortly after moving to Houston from Austin in 1978, Uvalde native Linda Morales began exploring her new community through the local women’s and LGBTQ-rights movements. Although the Latina lesbian woman found friends and kinship in both activist circles, she noticed something was missing—a focus on her Hispanic heritage.
This was brought to a head when a popular gay bar in Montrose held a racist event. “The advertising for this ‘Best Wetback’ contest said that whoever won would get a book on speaking ‘Englich’ and swimming lessons,” Morales recalls.
“The event was sponsored by people who were supposed to be my brothers in the fight against discrimination. It was hard to ignore, so I organized a protest,” she continues. “For some weeks, they said ‘she doesn’t get satire’ and my name was mud, but eventually they apologized. They came around.”
The incident made Morales, 66, realize that there was much to be done to defend the rights of LGBTQ Latinos, so she left her job as a television specialist for UT Health’s Dr. Duke Health Report and began to organize.
Many great efforts were birthed as a result of her decision, such as Gay and Lesbian Hispanics Unidos (GLHU), an educational and social organization that spearheaded Amigos Voluntarios en Educación de Salud (AVES), an HIV-AIDS committee that became one of the primary AIDS-education organizations in Houston.
Morales was also a founding member of the Latino Lesbian Gay Organization (LLEGO) focusing on health, immigration, and political issues. She also served as the president of Mexican American Democrats, which endorsed candidates and worked to get the Latino vote to the polls.
“I have done lots of activism, all based on who I am,” Morales explains. “I am Latina, I am lesbian, and I am a woman. These encompassed much of it. In these areas there is a lot of discrimination—discrimination against women, against Hispanics, and against lesbians and gays. It requires attention, even now, if we are to ever rise above its damage to human potential.”
In 1989, the Texas Human Rights Foundation challenged Texas’ homosexual-conduct law, and Morales agreed to be the lead plaintiff. Though the law was not overturned, it paved the way for legal challenges that followed—including the landmark Lawrence v. Texas case that overturned sodomy laws nationwide.
As she reflects on her achievements, Morales says there’s one that stands out the most. In April, the Houston LGBTQ+ Political Caucus honored Morales with an award during its We Are One honors ceremony. “It was a recognition of the years of fighting to take the homosexual conduct law off the books. The way that they honored me was very beautiful.”
Today, Morales is the organizing coordinator for the Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation/AFL-CIO, where she focuses on building union capacity and political power to improve workers’ lives. She also works with Latinos for Equity Advancement and Diversity (LEAD) and is a “madrina,” or godmother, of Young Latinas for Lina, a new political-action committee to help re-elect Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.
“I’m no longer a young Latina,” Morales laughs, “But I have the knowledge and I want to be able to pass it on. A group of us realized we weren’t mentoring a lot of the young and upcoming Latinas in politics. We found some young [women who] wanted to form this group, and they see Lina as the face of young Latinas. We knew they needed some mentoring on how to form a PAC and run political campaigns, so we’ve been giving them the tools and the resources to be able to do that.”
Morales lives in North Houston’s Lindale neighborhood with her spouse, Esther. When the couple isn’t participating in political events together, they enjoy spending time outdoors. “She loves flowers, so while she works the garden, I’ll mow the lawn,” Morales says.
With Pride Month in full swing, Morales is looking forward to the upcoming Pride celebration on June 25. “Esther and I like the festival. It’s a great opportunity to see people that you haven’t seen in a while, maybe since the last festival. Pride is a celebration and recognition of being ourselves—myself. It’s the freedom to love who we choose. For me, that’s Esther.”
Noted LGBTQ activist Deborah Moncrief Bell has called Morales a friend for 35 years. The women share a passion for justice as well as their memories of laughter, mutual support, and advocacy work.
“I have always admired Linda. She is fierce and powerful, but she is also diplomatic and measured—qualities that I never seemed to have developed,” Bell states, laughing.
“Because Linda is a blend of intelligence, deep dedication, and diplomacy, she is very effective at acting as a bridge between men and women, whites and Latinos, labor and management. She is remarkable,” Bell notes.
When did Morales come out? “I think I was always out. I knew from a very young age that I gravitated to women. My mom always knew, too. It was not a big issue for us, except when I stood up against the anti-homosexual law in Texas. She said, ‘I know you are a lesbian, but do you have to tell the whole world?’ I said, ‘Mom, it’s not the whole world, it’s only Texas!’” Morales concluded with a smile and a gleam in her eye.
This article appears in the June 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine.