"My dream would be to have an advocate summer school. Learn how to be an advocate and manage it with your schedule. We do so much right now that all I wanna do is get more people involved. The administration and state is just attacking all of us. Nobody is safe. All the marginalized people. Immigrants. Muslims. Women’s rights. LGBTQ+. Black Lives.
Let us stop being in our own bubbles. It is time to get in together. Empower all of us. All our voices together is much more powerful than these Republican Red Bible Belt people."
I’m in the presence of a celebrity. You have done so much for Tulsa.
I always start off with the same question. As QTPOC, I feel like we are constantly policed when it comes to our identity, often times bombarded with labels, boxes, and stereotypes. How do you personally like to identify?
Well, what I’ve learned and what I have found, I am a gay, Hispanic, umm, man. I do use male pronouns. I’m religious as well. I tell everybody I’m a gay, Hispanic, Catholic, pro-choice male. Everyone goes..
Yeah, I grew Catholic and I loved the morals and the values but I didn’t accept everything. Like no gays and pro-life and this and that. Other certain things. No! I don’t stand for that, but I still believe in a Christ. It’s all fluid but that’s how I identify.
Just Googling you, it is evident how involved you are with the community of Tulsa. You are the program director here, The Dennis R. Neil Equality Center, running the 35th anniversary Pride event, Dream Act Oklahoma, the Mayor’s Council, and more. What got you so involved with Tulsa? Are you a native? If not, what brought you here?
I was born and raised here. First generation. Parents are from Mexico. I started at a very young age, not so young.
A lot of it started when I was kicked out from home. I’ve been on my own since 16. Came out, was in a very abusive family. My dad has been married 4 or 5 times, mom abandoned me and dad at birth. It was very, very abusive. My dad would beat me everyday, would insult me, it was emotional and physical abuse. There were times when I would go to school with bruises, a busted lip, and they would ask what happened. I never ratted my dad out or said anything. He would sometimes lock me up in my room. I would be playing and then all of a sudden he would just come from behind me and beat me. I never understood why.
But, I got to the point at 14 where it was everyday. Like I was like, he insults me. He calls me a piece of shit. Every cuss word you can find in the dictionary, those were told. At age 14, I thought he was probably right. My role model. My father. The only person I look up to is telling me this and that. I probably am.
So I tried to commit suicide. It was unsuccessful, went to the hospital, got stomached and everything. And that’s when I thought, I can’t be living like this anymore. I told him I loved him but couldn’t live with him anymore. I decided to go to Mexico and live with grandma and an aunt a whole year.
That was my freshman year of high school. That is when I learned how to speak Spanish fluently, how to read and write. I knew a little bit but not perfect. So I stayed there for a whole year. I loved it. Lived near the beach and made tons of friends. I was school president, that’s where I started, I found my niche.
Then my dad came back, apologizing, and saying he missed me and so forth. I came back and went to Daniel Webster High School, West Tulsa, as a sophomore. A few months passed and my dad hadn’t changed. He was still the same and I told him he needed to change, I don’t wanna live under this. It was when I started knowing who I was, my sexuality evolving. I would see guys and find them attractive and so forth. And I started knowing who I was. It wasn’t until one night when we were watching tv and say gay people on the screen. He started just cussing at the tv and saying faggot and more. I thought to myself, I identify as them. I am attracted to guys. The next day he striked me.
I stood up and told him he wasn’t going to do this anymore. We got into an argument and I told him I was gay. Then he kicked me out.
“Grab your stuff and leave. I don’t want you here. I’m not gonna have a faggot under my roof.”
So I go to my room to pick up my stuff. He comes back a few minute laters.
“What are you doing?”
“Well, you told me to pick up my stuff and leave.”
“But I paid for this.”
So I just left with the clothes on my back, a sophomore in high school. And I knew how the foster program worked because I looked into it before. I’m not going into the system. My family was rejecting me as well. He called everybody and nobody wanted to help me. I was just couch surfing until one aunt, months later, called and said she wanted to help me, but she wanted me to do conversion therapy.
I didn’t think it was bad. I was tired of finding the next place to sleep so I took it. She took me to a priest, gave me drops, and made me pray every night. She showed me a video where a guy who apparently died, God took him to hell and showed him what happens through every sin.
She always showed the gay section. He went, “In Hell, the gay guys are shoved with a hot pole up their butt into their throat and repeatedly.” I was like, this can’t be true. But she made me watch, and I guess this was the price to pay for a place to stay a while.
Then she started with these drops. They tasted like gas or oil, and they started making me sick. And months later, I started throwing up, like I couldn’t keep anything down. She called the priest telling him he keeps throwing up, he’s getting sick. The priest said, “Oh, he’s just throwing up the gayness, don’t worry.”
This is something serious. No, I’m not gonna take these anymore. I quit, said I’m not going to do this, and left. It’s not worth my health. I’ve been on my own since 16. I’ve encountered so many people who have helped me. People who have given me clothes, who knew my situation. My school counselor, Mary Waters, helped me so much. I don’t think I could have made it without her. I graduated early, reason is, I told her I needed to graduate or I need to quit school. I can’t live on my own, work full time, and go to school. She didn’t want the responsibility.
I understand how the situation works. Sometimes you wanna help somebody but your hands are tied. So she said, you have enough credits but you need to go to summer school. In order to go to summer school, since you don’t need it, you have to pay $400 for it. I put my ass to work. I work cutting lawns, picking up trash, whatever I could do. I did it, graduated early and jumped a year. And there I was finally in a stable place. I was living with a cousin. I told her I would pay rent, live on your couch, but you give me a key and I’ll come and go. A roommate situation, just live in your living room. By this time I was carrying around a cardboard box, but by that, I had upgraded to a topper.
Yeah, it’s hard. When I see other foster kids who carry around a plastic bag, it’s so heartbreaking. I wasn’t in that situation and can’t compare since I know their situation must be worse, but I still remember having to carry around a cardboard box. Then a plastic box and then a drawer. One of those plastic Wal-Mart ones. Back to the story.
I got a lot of help from other people and there I got the opportunity to start a TV show. Host, produce, and direct a television show. I thought about how to give back to the community since the community has given so much to me that I needed to give back. So I did the TV show called Tulsa Youth Talk. It had 5 episodes and aired on Tulsa Government channel at City Hall, Tulsa Public Schools Channel, and Tulsa Community College channel. It was just, I was touching the hard subjects. First show was about discrimination, how I was discriminated because of my sexual orientation and racial profiling. We had an episode on a girl who was bigger sized, so she was being discriminated because of her size and her Black skin. Another Black African American talked about how she was followed when shopping because people assumed she would steal.
Then I had an expert, the executive director of racial justice, and so it was just a talk. Youth talking about their experiences and professional advice. The next episode was teenage pregnancy. We talked about how to have safe sex. Two girls who got pregnant and went to Margaret Hudson program, the director of Margaret Hudson program. It’s a program where pregnant girls can still graduate. Their life is not over. Next was drugs and alcohol. Then it was bullying. The last one was college and scholarships. I wish I could have done more, but at least I touched on several topics that I’ve experienced, and others have experienced as well. So when they watch these, at least they know there are resources in Tulsa.
And so that’s where the passion started growing. There’s so much I can do. I can help, I can give. The world has probably treated me unfairly in some parts, but in some parts, the community has accepted me with open arms. So I like that. And that's when I started getting more involved with other things. So that was during high school. After that I started Tulsa Community College and was lucky enough to get scholarships.
Being religious, being a Catholic man, I said God, I need to pay forward to you. I already paid forward to the community, how can I pay forward to you? I went to a priest and he told me to just pray, thank him. I knew that wasn’t enough. I’m the type of person who likes to go beyond.
And so, the two years I did at TCCC, I did two years teaching Catechism, Sunday school. I taught ages 4-6, and teaching them how to pray, how to accept one another, songs of God. Just giving back to God for the years He’s given me. Then life gets in the way, had a boyfriend. Had a domestic violence relationship for two years and then I couldn’t stand it anymore.
I’m so involved in so many things. I’m strongly on domestic violence because I’m a victim, growing up and relationship wise. So there’s certain niches I feel very fair in. I believe a lot in equality. Everybody should be treated equally. As long as they’re not harming anyone, they should be allowed to do whatever they want. I’m just rambling.
Thank you so much for being so vulnerable and opening up. It means a lot. Wow. Thank you.
I’m always interested in intersectionality. It is so absent in the LGBTQ+ community. I’m interested in your relationship with the Catholic Church. What has been your engagement with the church. Has there been a lot of space for you to advocate? Do you get to speak up or do you feel silenced?
The success I’ve found has been touching other families. Currently, the Church still doesn’t want to accept. They don’t wanna talk about anything. I still go to church and confession, and I do get people who tell me I can’t receive the Eucharist because I’m gay. I still do because I don’t consider being gay a sin. I’m still gonna continue. What are they gonna do? Block the line?
That is my simple protest. What I am doing right now is working with Latino or Hispanic organizations that work with families, and predominantly these families are Catholic. Hopefully swerve myself in there and teach them about LGBTQ+ rights and HIV. Just today I had a meeting with several community Latino members with whom I came forward and said, “Since I’ve started working here at the Dennis. R. Equality Center August of 2015, and put myself out there in the Latino community, 3 families have come to me saying their son has come out to me as gay, what do I do? My daughter has come out as lesbian. They’ve come to me and asked for help.”
What I’ve done to these leaders is that I tell them there is something they are not reaching or shining the light on. You help me shine the light or I’ll go around and do it myself. I need the community help. So they finally understood. They’re finally for it. With that growing among the Latino community and educating them, they will probably be an ally to help us with the church.
“Oh, Jose goes to my church and I support him. He should be having the same rights at my church.”
I hope to touch several at my community so they can advocate for us. I feel like the LGBTQ+ community is strong, but we can be stronger with our allies. I hope to empower our allies and hopefully encourage them to advocate for us at these churches.
I am interested in what problems you currently see in the LGBTQ+ community. What is our next forefront?
Right now we are fighting legislation. The committee introduced that businesses can decline or reject them because of their sexual orientation or faith base. That is a setback for the LGBTQ+ community. That is a setback for Tulsa being so diverse and such a welcoming community. They have another bill where cities can adopt sanctuary cities and ordinances towards the LGBTQ+ community.
In Tulsa we have an ordinance where landlords can’t discriminate against sexual orientation. If that bill passes, that overrules what Tulsa has. So our capitol leaders, they’re setting us back. What I’m glad is Tulsa has made ordinance in the city so we have LGBTQ+ protection, some, but the state is pushing us back. I feel like if we get together and push back, we are still a powerful city. So I see that affecting us right now. Wanting to attack us on businesses. There is no difference between my money and a cis-gender heterosexual’s money. It is still hard earned. I think that's setting us back right now through legislation, through attacks on our human rights. That and employment. We hear people getting fired everyday for being gay.
I was fired for being gay. We hear people getting attacked for being gay. I was attacked for being gay.
All these things. We don’t have hate crime protection. We don’t have employment protection. We have housing protection but that's the only thing. If that leaves, we are set back. Our leaders. They are setting us back. People that WE have voted into office.
You mentioned being attacked. Were you attacked in the parking lot?
I found that out through Google too.
That is why I’m so passionate. Before I started working at the Equality center, I was assistant to the executive editor of the Tulsa World. When people ask me what I did, I ask if they’ve seen The Devil Wears Prada. That’s what I did.
Copy. lLunches. Set up meetings. Articles. News. Are you here to see the editor? Clean the refrigerator. I loved it. I loved it! Before that I was working at an imaging center. It was Christian based and they found out I was gay, so they fired me. That put me back into the closet. I’m afraid to say I’m gay, what if my next employer doesn’t wanna hire me?
So when I interviewed for the Tulsa World position, she asked me why I was let go. I was afraid to tell her. She said it was ok. Well, I’m gay and this is the first interview where I’ve had to say that. It put me back into the closet. She told me not to worry and gave me the job the next day. I worked there for a year, and it wasn’t until I went to a gay club with my two friends.
The two friends are undocumented but they have their passports from their countries. So we went to this gay club, I showed me ID and they showed their passports. She flipped through their passports. I was wondering why she was flipping through them. We gave it with the photo and birth dates showing.
“Where is the stamp that proves they are here legally?”
“Yeah, I need have proof that they’re here legal.”
“Ok. One, this is a bar. This is not homeland security office. Two, it is racist for you to ask anybody on their legal status.”
“It is not racist.”
“Yes it is.”
“I’m gonna have to get my manager.”
“Yes, please get your manager.”
By this time I am offended for me friends. They wanted to just leave but I knew this wasn’t right.
And so the manager comes in and says, “We are not allowed to serve to illegal people.”
I got hurt, yeah I said some choice words, grabbed my passport and he said, “Yeah, leave or else we are going to have to call ICE.”
How can a marginalized community be discriminating against another marginalized community? That is how I got involved with the Equality Center. That Sunday morning I called the Dennis R. Equality Center and made an incident report. I was so offended how the LGBTQ+ community can ask for equality when they’re not promoting equality. They did an investigation. On Monday I told my boss, the executive editor, and she said, if they don’t apologize by the end of the week, we will run a front page story. So I had full support and lawyers started calling me. Toby, the executive director, got in. Thursday, they said they’ll meet with him. I asked my friends and they said no.
That happens a lot. Where the Latino community is so discriminated or hurt, or crime has occurred and they are afraid to speak up. They just keep quiet or ignore it. No! If they did it to my friends, I bet my bottom dollar that they do it to other people. It wasn’t until they did it to someone who knew what to do. We went back Thursday and they kept denying everything. It was an hour.
“Guys, you can deny it all day, that’s fine. In my heart I know what you did, I’m representing my friends who were afraid to come, and representing other people you must have done this to. Just know that I will be watching from now on.”
Then Toby extended an invite to join the board of advisors at the Equality center so I joined. A position became available months later. I was being a volunteer and getting more involved with the LGBTQ+ community and had so many ideas. They asked if I wanted to apply with all these ideas. I applied and said bye Tulsa World, hello human rights!
It is a decision I don’t regret, and I love it everyday. When people say they wanna do my work, I tell them it has to be out of passion. It’s not the money because you’re not gonna make millions or thousands. You’ll make enough to live and survive. My reward is knowing I helped somebody. Knowing that, thank you Jose for connecting me with this person because I finally have good health. I found HIV medication and so forth. That was my intro to OK Equality.
May I ask what a dream program is for you, the Equality Center, and Tulsa? Unlimited budget and anyone you can imagine on board.
Ohhh, we do so much already. My dream would be to have an advocate summer school. Learn how to be an advocate and manage it with your schedule. We do so much right now that all I wanna do is get more people involved. The administration and state is just attacking all of us. Nobody is safe. All the marginalized people. Immigrants. Muslims. Women’s rights. LGBTQ+. Black Lives.
Let us stop being in our own bubbles. It is time to get in together. Empower all of us. All our voices together is much more powerful than these Republican Red Bible Belt people. That would be my dream.
People say I’m a feminist. Just a feminist? Come, join us! Educate others about other rights.
And being a local Tulsan, how have you seen Tulsa transform throughout your lifetime, and where do you see it going in the next 5 years?
I just wanna say I’m 24 so I don’t have a huge lifetime.
Woot! I’m 24 too! 92?
Yay to the year of the monkey!
Yeah, and I’m September so Libra.
But what I learned and I hope to answer these questions in the next 5/10 years, but Tulsa is such a growing, developing, diverse, and including city. They are so welcoming. Everywhere I go, I just went to Philly, Chicago, D.C., everyone says I’m so nice. Is it just you or everyone from Oklahoma? I don’t think it’s just me. I think it’s everybody. We’re so humbling, welcoming. Even people moving here, from Florida, California, etc. They ask if I like it here.
People are so nice, friendly, it’s slow. Yeah, so I think. And every idea is new here.
I hear people say I wanna go to LA. There’s nothing here. Well, place it here. Every idea is new. You wanna make a change? This is the place right now. Probably in 20 years, Tulsa will be big and you’re not gonna be able to find your niche.
Yeah, everybody has been welcoming and well-intended. Problematic at times, but they are genuinely trying to connect.
What is one question you wish people asked you more often?
How are you today? Like truly, how are you? Are you personally ok? Is your health ok?
It’s just that. Cause in this, it’s so busy. We have this new program. This new bill we need to fight. This new incident we need to research and investigate. To just sit and chill.
How are you? Have you found time to self-care during these tumultuous times?
I find times when I can. Ummm night times are my best because our busiest schedule, I’ve learned our busiest schedule is from January to May due to legislation. That is why all of us take our vacation during August. It is the least busy month. January through May, legislation and all the programs we already do. June-July, Pride! Then our own Pride. August is really slow. I know it’s too early to be saying but I’m looking forward to August. Yeah, they’ve already stepped on our throats many time in this one month. I’m doing good right now.
What I like to do is watch movies. I love movies because it distracts your mind. You might be driving and your mind is thinking about getting this done and taking care of that. While you’re cooking you’re thinking about the next step. For me, in a movie, I’m thinking about the characters and living in the moment.
What’s your favorite movie?
Oohhh, that’s hard. Few I can’t stop watching, that I love to watch is Mean Girls...
That’s the bible!
Right?!? It is so funny and never gets old. Hmmm. Two other ones are The Age of Adeline and Benjamin Buttons. They are so sad but beautiful. I don’t know. It’s cool. Those are my favorites, ones that I wouldn’t mind watching everyday.
I’m also wondering, what advice do you have for your younger self or the future QTPOC generation?
It does get better you know, as long as your heart is in it. Don’t let that...something I tell all my GSA students cause, I started a new program called Prism that starts tomorrow. And right now we have GSA classes in school which is LGBTQ+ leaders and allies in high school. But when high school ends, where do they go? They either go to college which might have a LGBTQ+ group or not. Some just quit or go to technical school, cosmetology school, or work. But the reason they were GSAs in high school is because they were passionate about LGBTQ+ rights. They wanted to make a difference. So this program I started is for 18-26 to be advocates. It’s a young adult program.
I want to let them know, don’t ever let that passion to create change and impact the community, don’t let it burn out.
I think that would be it. Be strong. I think all the marginalized communities have been the strongest out of everybody. From Black Lives to Muslims to asylum seekers to Women’s rights. They have faced hate and discrimination, and still fight for them. Don’t let that fire out and things will get better.
There are many resources in Tulsa. It is a very welcoming city!
And what can we do to help you and you cause Jose?
Get more involved with OKEq. Volunteer wherever your passions take you. The Muslim community, Jewish community Center, here. Give back to the community. We have a volunteer program that only asks for 3 hrs/week. I think just helping. If you see I’m doing an event, extend an arm. Ask how you can help. Just volunteer.
I’ll end this with a really random question. Who is your favorite drag queen?
Ohhh! I don’t have a favorite drag queen, I love all my queens. Every time I go out of town, I always wanna see a drag queen my first night. I just love their amazing performances and dances. The splits and everything. I just love them all.
Do you have a drag persona?
I’ve never tried it. I feel like I’m not the person to do it. I’m shy but many people are surprised.
I’m shy when I’m the only one. I would love to. Some day. I first need to break that performance scare. I know it will probably break when we have the Black Box Theatre. I’ll probably create programs and start as an extra, then slowly forth when I like to take the main stage. Maybe you’ll see me with a wig whipping it back and forth.
Did you wanna expand upon anything else before I let you go?
Something I just like to mention is that I know my story being domestically abused as a child and everything. When I talk to people, oh, I do drugs because I was abused or this as a child. I totally understand, but I want them to know to look deep into your heart, somewhere deep, where you replace that drug or alcohol with giving back or helping somebody. I know there is a lot of domestic abuse amongst the LGBTQ+ community, and hate, and kicked out. That may be why they fall into bad habits. I just want to touch them with my story and let them know it gets better. Just find something you’re passionate about and focus on that, it’s better for your health. That should be it.
Thank you so much for that Jose. What are your plans for the rest of the day?
I close the center Thursdays and Fridays, so I’m here till 9. And there’s a lot of things I need help with if anyone wants to. I’m the program director for OKEq. I oversee programs and implement new ones. For community leaders who’d like to do one. We just started Latin dance classes and self-defense classes. Those are two new ones I just started this year. I also run the art gallery which we have art shows every 1st Thursday of the month. If you know any artists, please tell them. I’m also doing More Color, the annual huge art exhibit for LGBTQ+. I started a mural art project. I am the Pride director this year. I am the volunteer coordinator. I am Outreach Community member. I am the Laitno...so yeah!
And the Black Box Theatre should be done by May. I know everyone has a story of coming out or being discriminated or just coming to be. I wanna do a storyline performance.
Woah! When do you breathe? We all need to put more work in like you!