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4 Uncomfortable Truths About Being LGBTQ in New Mexico

New Mexico Couples Activism
by Juliana Bilowich May 15, 2015

1. LGBTQ-friendly sex stores need bullet-proof windows.

“The owners expected backlash in the beginning,” says sex educator Anastasia Fever of Albuquerque’s Self Serve, a sex-positive, LGBTQ-inclusive sexuality resource center and retail store now operating in its 8th year. “I was here in the store when it happened. [The rocks] shattered every window.”

With a 50-50 LGBTQ-straight clientele ratio, Self Serve is not a sex store like one might think. A far cry from the “dirty money” stigma of other sex stores, this resource center focuses on inclusivity and education. In trying to normalize the queer identity, Self Serve partners with community organizations. “When you’re ostracized or told you’re sick, it’s valuable to have a place where we love you for who you are.”

With a job of teaching people to accept their bodies — no matter the body — the Self Serve educators have their work cut out for them. But in the past year, co-founders Matie Fricker and Molly Adler have experienced ten acts of vandalism at their center, pushing a small business to the brink. Self Serve may be Located between the Albuquerque Social Club, a private LGBTQ hotspot, and Effect Night Club, a gay club and lounge with a rooftop dance floor, but the store also sits at the intersection of cultures: Despite the State’s LGBTQ-positive laws, including same sex marriage, New Mexico’s more conservative values remain deeply rooted.

When the rocks started flying, this sex-celebratory center felt the very risks and rejections many of their clients feel every day. The community, both locally and nationally, responded with love and financial support; lo and behold, Albuquerque’s LGBTQ community can once again shop sexuality safely—this time, behind bulletproof glass.

2. LGBTQ sex is fun — and risky.

We’ve come a long way from calling HIV the “gay disease”. “I would never use those words, but men who have sex with men, still make up 65% of people infected” says Luke Tobis, a Community Outreach Specialist with Truman Health Services in Albuquerque. “Sexual freedom has become an identifying factor in the LGBTQ community.”

This freedom is coupled with a de-legitimization of LGBTQ sex — that is, the tendency to take ‘deviant’ sex less seriously — and the result is less emphasis on and less access to safety. In a city with condom-selling gas stations at every corner, the female condoms and dental dams are routinely out-of-stock.

3. Marginalization leads to more marginalization.

When successful Albuquerque Attorney Cristy Carbon-Gaul’s children brought home stories from school of LGBTQ classmates who were at risk of being homeless, a dream was born: Open a shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth. Two years later, Casa Q, a facility providing safe living options and services to LGBTQ youth who are experiencing or are at risk of homelessness, is open and housing its first kids, many of whom will be family-rejected due to sexual orientation and identity.

Director Jim Harvey explains what makes the facility more a home than just a shelter: “What’s unique about Casa Q is that between the ages of 14 and 18, [the youth] can stay as long as they’d like.”

As the first of its kind in New Mexico, Casa Q’s comprehensive program covers more than housing. With the goal of education, job support, and if possible and appropriate, reunification with family, Casa Q’s 24/7 staff develop individual work-ups with the youth to help them reach their goals. “All of them come with trauma,” says Jim. “Being disconnected from family is just the beginning. The trauma of trying to survive is devastating.”

According to an American Progress report from 2010, there are close to 4,000 LGBTQ teens experiencing homeless in metropolitan Albuquerque alone. With statistics showing that up to 40% of homeless youth identifying as LGBTQ, Jim Harvey and his colleagues know the odds are against them. “We can’t house them all,” says Harvey. But with a community that raised around $300,000 from mostly individual donations to start the facility, and with Casa Q’s direct neighbors “doing a 180” in terms of acceptance, the future is looking bright.

4. The two-gender binary is a western construct.

As a Native American trans woman working as the Trans Inclusion Specialist with the University of New Mexico’s LGBTQ Resource Center, Renae Swope knows a thing or two about gender identity. “In Navajo tradition, we don’t just have two genders,” says Renae. “The third and fourth genders are revered for having both masculine and feminine characteristics. Much of the history has been lost, but not all of it. We are trying to bring back the history.”

The combination of LGBTQ discrimination and structural racism is especially vicious. “If you’re coming from a rural area, you face tremendous barriers as a LGBTQ youth,” says Renae of Native communities. “You just don’t have the same resources.”

Resource Center’s Director Alma Rosa knows that reaching full inclusion in Albuquerque is only the beginning. After opening a branch office in Gallup, NM, a rural area also known as the “Native American Capitol of the world,” the staff hopes to encourage the growing statewide movement of encouraging LGBTQ awareness. “Something I’ve been impressed with is the allyship with our trans community,” says Alma. “We are all marginalized, but we are stepping up our solidarity.”

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