By Tenzin Sangmo on 09-13-16
As Descartes said, ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Our sense of Identity, that drives us, is at the core of many clashes of the modern world. The LGBTQ movement is an extension of that
48 years old Andres Duque, a Colombian-American, a founding member of Queens Pride House and health care and referral navigator, has witnessed the journey of LGBTQ community in America at close quarter. Queens Pride House is situated in Jackson Heights, a neighbourhood with vibrant LGBTQ community, Hispanic and others.
The following is a condensed & edited excerpt from the interview.
Q1. What is your relation with Queens Pride House?
AD: We launched QPC in 1997. I took the current role two years ago. When I first came to Jackson Heights in mid 90’s, I felt at home with the presence of many Hispanic gay men like me. But there was no agency to represent the community.
Q2. When did you realise that you were gay and when did you come to accept it?
AD: I knew before coming to the US at 12 that I am attracted to men. It was only in 1986 after I finished high school here and was about to go back to Colombia that I found the courage to talk about it in high school. The funny thing was many came out as gay their selves. One boy said he was attracted to me. I was like No…
Q3. Senator Jose Peralta, who represent the neighbourhood called for cleaning up of Roosevelt Avenue for its bad actors. Given how many LGBTQ businesses and bars are situated in the location, do you think he was targeting the LGBTQ community?
AD: Senator Peralta has always been supportive of our community I believe he is referring to bars in the corridor that advertises dancing with a waitress as a cover for prostitution.
The problem is reporters are only interested in Jackson heights when there is a crime. It takes away attention from the visible, open space that the area is. Gay bars like Friends Tavern and Club Evolution in Roosevelt Avenue have been here forever and are establishments now. JH has become a vibrant, accepting neighbourhood for folks who are LGBTQ?
Q4. Is the term LGBTQ all inclusive?
AD: (laughs) The terms will never be all inclusive because there are infinite ways to identify sexuality and gender. So we continue to add letters like LGBTQ ts for two-spirit as described in the tradition of American Indian.
LGBTQi which means intersexed is used more commonly in Latin America and now in America.
Q6. What do you think about the anti-gay protest that took place in Mexico over the weekend?
AD: It’s the religious group spearheading such protest. It is the same case in Colombia and Peru when it comes to adoption rights for same-sex couples and civil union law respectively.
I kind of believe that this is the last backlash, as a cathartic outlet for those who can’t do anything about the gaining momentum.
Q7. What is it about the movement that got it so far?
AD: Politicians say that the success of the LGBTQ movement in changing the attitude is an example for other movements to emulate. I disagree because it is difficult to recreate it because certain specific things fell into place.
AD: HIV-Aids happened. People realised they have to come out and demand treatment. People who were first affected were gay white men with money, who can afford to experiment and has enough to spend on advertisement. The prototype gay man is usually white men as depicted in media/imagery.
Q7. What is SIA program at the QPC?
AD: It is a counselling session for survivors of incest abuse. We also have sex addicts anonymous and LGBTQ AA sessions. SIA is led by an organisation that asked for space and we are providing that.
Q8: Is there any particular experience that stayed with you from your work here at QPC
AD: Oh yes. A conversation with an undocumented Indian man last year. He comes to use computers and watch TV. We eventually got talking and he said he was homeless, living in a women’s shelter and that nobody understands him.
His sexuality [sounds like he means ‘gender’ here…] is fluid, meaning he can dress up like a woman and enjoy men’s attention but attached to his masculinity. He shifts between being a man and a woman.
Q9. Do you think you will ever say, ‘I did enough advocacy’?
AD: Lot of people ask me if agencies like QPH will be a thing of a past in near future. I disagree. So I don’t think I will ever say that. There still are incredible needs, particularly for undocumented immigrants.
The interview has been condensed and edited.