Arcelia Hurtado speaks to UTPA students
Arcelia Hurtado, the deputy director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, talked to students about herself and what the NCLR does for people around the world Nov. 15. She was introduced by Stephanie Alvarez, an assistant professor and director for the Mexican American Studies at the University of Texas-Pan American.
Hurtado, who is a law graduate from the University of California Berkeley, said that the mission of the organization is to protect the legal rights of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender community, with an emphasis on lesbians.
“A lot of what we do is life and death work,” Hurtado told the audience. “It’s to protect people from being killed for who they are.”
Hurtado was raised as the youngest child to a father who was a farmworker and a mother who was a nurse and a midwife in Mexico. She was raised in McAllen and attended Berkeley after she graduated from high school.
Upon arrival, she experienced a culture shock as she pushed for a major in political and Chicano studies. Had it not been for her classes, Hurtado would not have finished her college career in California.
“Chicano studies is what saved me,” Hurtado stated. “It, and my professors, taught me to be proud of who we were. It really shaped my career.”
After working as lawyer for 10 to 12 years, mainly representing women on death row, Hurtado joined the Equal Rights Advocates, an organization dedicated to the advocacy of women’s rights.
While working with the ERA, she and the organization filed a lawsuit against all Walmartstores in the nation over the alleged unequal payment of female workers compared to male workers.
The case was brought before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011. It is still being currently fought with a hearing set for February 15, 2013 at the U.S. District Court for Northern Carolina.
Hurtado’s current mission with the NCLR is focused on protecting and working with the youth who are dealing with their sexual orientation.
“We are trying to keep schools safe,” Hurtado said. “Especially for the LGBT kids, who are constantly being bullied.”
Hurtado discussed a 2010 lawsuit where she and her organization fought against the Anoka-Hennepin school district in Minnesota for allegedly committing Gender Identity Discrimination.
The district placed a “gag rule” on the students, teachers and other employees, forbidding them from discussing anything related to the LGBT community. Some kids were severely bullied to the point of suicide, Hurtado said.
The litigation lasted for two years and in early March, 2012, the Obama Administration joined the fight. They were able to win the case, thus having the district inform the instructors on how to handle and discuss issues among LGBT students and the community.
After her presentation, Hurtado answered questions from the audience. One of the main inquiries many were concerned with was as to how the NCLR is working with the youth here in South Texas.
“One way I’d like to work more on South Texas is to work with the Queer DREAMers,” Hurtado replied, referencing a group of undocumented immigrants who come to the U.S. and are part of the LGBT community. “There’s an interesting intersection with their race, status and sexuality.”
According to a June interview with The Monitor, President Robert Nelsen stated that 600 students at the University are undocumented citizens eligible for a possible DREAM act. The LGBT community at the University consists of about 1000 students, Marlon Duran, the LGBT president, said.
Hurtado ended the session by describing the progress the world has made in protecting the equality of the youth.
“So much is changing socially,” Hurtado said to the audience. “I’m not saying it’s all perfect and wonderful but a lot of kids now are a lot more brave about asserting who they are.”