In the midst of a 9.8 percent unemployment rate and the worst economic recession since the 1930s, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis took time to advocate for Latino LGBT (lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgendered) rights.
Last month, Solis was the spokeswoman for a Spanish-language version of Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project, called “Se Pone Mejor.” (She also made a version in English). The It Gets Better Project is a series of videos on YouTube that aim to tell young LGBT youth who are being bullied that they are not alone, and that life will get better. Savage launched the project in September 2010, in response to a number of LGBT youth suicides in the U.S. The project has inspired more than 5000 user-created videos and over 15 million views.
Solis’ video is directed at Spanish-speaking LGBT youth and inspires them to hope for a better future.
“You matter. You mean something. You will always mean something, and you have a future. I am here to tell you that you are not alone. We, like many others, are standing with you. You can count on us. There is a beautiful tomorrow, and we want you to be there to enjoy it.”
In “Se Pone Mejor,” Solis also stands with a group of LGBT colleagues in the Department of Labor, and advocates for Spanish-speaking LGBT individuals in the U.S. who are open about their sexual identity in the workplace.
“A large part of what we do here at the Department of Labor involves making sure that workers are treated fairly in the workplace. That includes the LGBT community, a community that my colleagues here are all a part of. Every one of them at one point or another has felt alone, different, like they had nowhere to go. Some have been bullied, made fun of and even mocked. Many members of the LGBT community – in particular, our youth – are facing bullies and other difficult situations where they are made to feel as if they don’t belong. This is not true. You do belong and you find your place. As my colleagues standing here with me today have all learned: It Gets Better!”
“Se Pone Mejor” is one of many videos published through the project that reflects the experiences of LGBT Latino immigrants.
In one of the others, Jon, a gay man and former Jehovah’s Witness, describes the role religion played in his adolescence. He says when he came out in the 9th grade, his family was punished by the church, and he was forbidden to interact with his peers. Jon’s family also insulted him because he was not sufficiently masculine. His message to viewers is that, eventually, even without your family’s support, things do get better.
In Mimi Gonzales’ video, a Latina lesbian and stand-up comedian living in Provincetown, Massachusetts, she adds a distinctly comedic voice to the somber tone of the It Gets Better Project. Gonzales focuses on the happiness that comes from feeling and expressing love, and closes by saying, “Please, stick around, because we’ll need you on the dance floor.”
The U.S. Labor Department’s “Se Pone Mejor” video is unique in that it reflects the sentiments of a group of LGBT staff from a government agency, as opposed to thousands of videos produced by individuals. Though Hilda Solis does not identify as LGBT herself, she may be responsible for encouraging this show of solidarity. The secretary of labor has been a longtime advocate of LGBT rights, and in 2008 she helped chair the House of Representatives LGBT Equality Caucus.
Solis has also promoted parental rights for LGBT families. Earlier this year she released a statement that addressed LGBT family needs by clarifying the terminology and policies of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which secures paid time off for child or personal illness, childbirth and adoption.
Watch the video in Spanish, or click here for the English version:
Von Diaz is a Feet in Two Worlds LGBT fellow. Her work, and the work of other Fi2W fellows, is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Mertz Gilmore Foundation.