The Brownsville City Commission approved the creation of a task force on Tuesday night that will give the LGBTQ community a voice in addressing discrimination, health concerns and other related issues in the border city.
Joe Colon Uvalles is a local activist and spoke with the commissioners and the mayor about creating the new group.
The meeting room on Tuesday was packed with several people standing against the wall after all the seats were filled. Colon Uvalles made his way to the podium to address some of the reasons that led him to want to create the first ever task force for the city.
“Kimberly Avila, a trans woman in our community, went missing from the downtown Brownsville area in 2017. She is still missing,” said Colon Uvalles at the podium. “Underlying this too is the way HIV disproportionately impacts gay and bisexual Latino men and Latina trans women.”
Albert Hinojosa, another local resident, spoke after Colon Uvalles.
He said it was important for him to be there because he wants to prevent others from the LGBTQ community from being harassed, like he was several months earlier by an employee at a local restaurant.
“This gentleman automatically thought I didn’t know how to speak Spanish, so he assaulted me with a homophobic word,” Hinojosa said. “And I let him know, ‘Hey, I understood what you said.’”
Hinojosa was having dinner with his family, including his 15-year-old niece and 6-year-old nephew.
Hinojosa said the restaurant’s manager got involved. The police eventually showed up and a police report was filed, but he said nothing was done.
“After that a lot of people reached out to me saying they’ve been through situations, stuff like that, even worse situations, so now it’s time to make it better,” said Hinojosa.
Jessica Tetreau-Kalifa is the city commissioner for District 2 in Brownsville. Hinojosa is her hair stylist. She said she remembers seeing the pain he went through after the incident at the restaurant and that it reminded her of Texas’ stance on rights for the LGBTQ community.
“We live in a state that doesn’t support rights… There were no laws, there were no ordinances to protect him from what happened,” Tetreau-Kalifa said. “Shortly after that I said, ‘This has to change.’”
Mayor Trey Mendez put the creation of the task force to a vote, which was passed unanimously
The room burst into applause.
“Thank you everybody who has been here and spoken on this, really appreciate all your time and effort,” said Mendez after the vote. “We’re going to get this done.”
After the meeting Colon Uvalles and others celebrated. He says he was overwhelmed with happiness to see Brownsville join cities like Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston, which have similar LGBTQ advisory boards.
“It’s now up to other cities in The Valley to look towards Brownsville as an example on how to be more inclusive and create opportunities to have these conversations and for these types of committees to exist,” Colon Uvalles said. “We’re making history and this is just the beginning of this history.”
Mendez said that the next steps are figuring out how many members will be part of the task force and setting its goals.