An unfortunate turn of events in Miami-Dade in the early 2000s, along with a few coincidences conspired to put Herb Sosa at the forefront of the LGBT rights movement here. But to hear him say it, he’s just addressing a local need.
Q: How was Unity Coalition|Coalición Unida formed?
A: In 2001 there was a challenge to the Miami-Dade county human rights ordinance. And [we] realized there needed to be education for the voters. A lot of great organizations locally and nationally were doing great efforts in South Florida, but were quite candidly not addressing the Hispanic [or] Haitian community, really none of the minorities. Our intention was not to start an organization. It was really to educate the voters, so we did. When the election came around we turned 13 different polls in favor of not overturning [the ordinance].
Q: So what kept Unity going?
A: The phone kept ringing. And we realized that people needed help with issues like immigration, marriage equality, adoption — a lot of things that luckily now have changed, but there are still many issues out there. We didn’t even have a name, but we realized there was a need in the community.
Q: What does Unity work on now?
A: We have four major events: Elevate is a day of being nicer. Every February we bring together about 14 different workshops, everything from jewelry making, painting and gardening to yoga. And it’s a day of being nicer to yourself, each other and the world. We host TransART, and we host Celebrate Orgullo, a month-long celebration of Hispanic and LGBT pride. We [also sponsor] an LGBT college scholarship.
Q: Share a little bit about TransART.
A: There is a huge transgender community in South Florida, and we felt there was a void in celebrating [their] art and talent. It’s easy to discriminate against groups when you don’t know them, when you don’t know there’s a dimension to their life. TransArt is an exhibit; a competition — in the sense that you have to qualify; and the commonality is in order to have your work exhibited or presented, you have to identify as transgender.
Q: Orlando kicked off a conversation about hate crimes toward the LGBT community and to a lesser extent to Latinos. Can you speak to that?
A: Orlando shook the core of our community. In fact, it touched me personally as a Hispanic gay male. It touched me as a South Floridian. It affected me having been to that club, knowing people that died there and people who survived, personally. The easiest way to dehumanize victims is to wipe out who they were, whether it’s their names, their sexual orientation, their heritage. All those things are very subtle, but they’re ways of separating. That’s why I really don’t like to talk about numbers. These were individuals.