Miguel Angel Ayala
3) City/state where you live currently:
DePaul University (Chicago)
Communications Director for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus
6) Did you serve in the U.S. military?
7) How do you describe your sexuality and your gender?
8) Do you have children and/or grandchildren?
9) If you are GLBT, please describe when you first "knew."
Looking back, I definitely see hints as far back as I can remember. Around the time I was in the 7th grade at the Evergreen Academy (about 12 years old) in McKinley Park, I knew I liked boys, though for the longest time I didn't know that was same thing as being gay. I even had a girlfriend around that time, because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do.
It wasn't until I got to high school, in my freshman year at Whitney Young Magnet High School, that I had made some friends who I was able to talk about this with. Thanks to them, I was able to admit to myself and understand that I was gay.
10) Who did you first "come out" to and when?
Coming out for me was a bit of a traumatic experience. I had confided in some friends about my feelings for some of my childhood friends. Through those discussions, I was able to come to the realization that I was gay.
High school being what it was, I hadn't realized how those discussions would affect me soon thereafter. One day after school a large group of friends – mostly if not all Latino, from Whitney Young High School – were headed to Ford City Mall to catch a movie. We were on a bus together, all talking, and then an argument between me and one of those friends boiled over. I forget the exact words, and they probably wouldn't be suitable for print, but she screamed out on the bus something to the effect that I was gay.
On that bus and afterwards, several of those friends asked me if I was all right, and if it was true. I confirmed for them that yes, it was. Then I had to figure out how I was going to tell my girlfriend. Good thing she wasn't on that bus.
From that point on, I learned to live openly, and when the next school year (my sophomore year) came along, it was not a secret that I was gay.
11) What troubles did you face as a GLBT person?
I feel fortunate that I have largely avoided any physical violence or verbal attacks because of my orientation up to this point in my life. In high school, there may have been snickers or statements, but I didn't take them seriously, and where appropriate, I confronted them.
Some of my troubles were the result of my own agitation. After taking on the cause of establishing an Asian/Latino Literature class as a senior year option, while I was a sophomore, I came to learn that there was a process to getting things like that done at the school, and became familiar with the Local School Council. I also learned that there was a student representative position, and then decided to run for it.
As a member of the Local School Council, I participated in discussions varying from budget priorities to curriculum options. Additionally, I became part of a group of students that felt we needed an organization for LGBT students. That process would prove cumbersome, as the school administration resisted. Through hard work from students like myself, Tiffany St. Cloud, and Katie Lubin we were able to make it happen, along with the help of some media attention.
That summer, as I started my senior year at Whitney Young, I was also elected to the Chicago School Reform Board of Trustees, as a non-voting student member.
My senior year, visibility was the key word. I was out there in every way possible. Halloween meant coming to school and going to class in drag. Homecoming meant bringing my good friend to the dance with him dressed in drag. For our Winter Dance, Snowball, it was my turn to put on the wig and make-up (I wish I had some make-up guidance back then). Then for Senior Prom, I took my boyfriend at the time – whom I had met just a few weeks earlier at the Horizons Gay Prom – as my date. (At one of our Senior Class assemblies, the school administrators were asked by a fellow student if same-sex couples would be allowed. They said no. I called CPS's legal department. A few hours later, that same day, the principal retracted that statement on the school PA system.)
12) Did you have mentors in the Chicago GLBT community?
I'd have to say that two of my key mentors were Toni Armstrong Jr., whom I came to know through our time in dealing with the starting of the Pride Club at Whitney Young, and my good friend Osvaldo Del Valle. He and I met when he interviewed me while he was working on a piece for En La Vida newspaper. From there, we grew to become the best of friends.
I'd also say that Martin Ornelas-Quintero, the former head of LLEGO (the now defunct Latino LGBT national organization), and Rick Garcia from Equality Illinois were supportive of me during my time in high school, as was Kevin Jennings, the head of GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network).
I'd also like to highlight a time when I was being recognized by the HRC (Human Rights Campaign) at their Illinois Gala. I was sitting at that table in between Judy Barr Topinka and Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. That evening, Topinka and my friend argued over the FDA ban on gay men giving blood, which Topinka supported keeping in place. Meanwhile, I had the chance to talk with Congressman Jackson Jr. That night, he inspired me to run for office when he told me that there was no better way to give back to your community than by being a public servant.
13) List organizations (GLBT or mainstream) you have been involved in.
Whitney Young Pride Club GSA (co-founder)
Student Pride USA national GSA networking alliance, now run by GLSEN as their Student Organizing program (co-founder with Toni Armstrong Jr.)
DePaul University Multicultural Greek Council (founder and board member)
DePaul University Pride (board member)
Sigma Lamda Beta International Fraternity Inc. (board, national/DePaul, and volunteer)
Chicago School Reform Board of Trustees (board member)
Hillary Clinton for U.S. Senate (volunteer)
Obama for President (volunteer)
National Youth Convention (volunteer)
LLEGO's Chicago Convention planning committee (volunteer)
14) When you were coming out, what were your favorite Chicago GLBT bars?
The first club I ever went to was The Rear at the Riviera (1995-1996ish) and Cream, the regular Friday night dance party that used to be held by Lawrence and Broadway (1996-1997). Boom-Boom Room at Red Dog and Crobar on Sunday's were also some of my favorites (1995-1998), along with the always-moving Thursday night and weekend spots organized by Al Cisneros, such as the Alcatraz and the Royal; they were always a great thing to have coming out (1995-2001).
15) What were the key issues faced in the GLBT community when you first came out?
The disappearance of social outlets for young people was a problem. The coffeehouses, like the one that used to be where the ReMax is now on Halsted, or the Halsted Street Cafe which became Circuit, were gone. Young people who wanted to hang out on Halsted would often gather at the Checkers on the corner of Halsted and Addison.
16) What issues do you see as key in the GLBT community today?
The fight for universal health care is one we need to consider as one of our issues. Furthermore, the fight to eradicate poverty affects GLBT people, and we must work see that happen.
Clearly, HIV/AIDS remains an issue for our community. While advances in medicine have moved us away from HIV being a death a sentence, we must continue to fight to educate the community about it and ensure that enough money is going into research on it.
17) How have AIDS and/or other health issues impacted your life personally?
When I was growing up, I remember that my mom had two male friends who were a couple. My mom was close with them, and would hang out with them often. When I was about 10 years old, I remember that we went to the hospital to visit one of them. I later would learn that he died of AIDS. A few years later, I ran into his partner. When I told him whose son I was, he remembered me instantly and was wowing at how tall I was and that I was gay.
I think this impacted me because his death and illness impacted my mother, and then made my coming out to her all that more difficult for her, but also let me see two gay Latino men in a loving relationship.
18) How would you describe the "diversity" within the Chicago GLBT community?
I've always been surrounded by a diverse group of friends in the community. Personally, for me, it has positively impacted me to have a diverse group of friends that has included people of all colors and backgrounds, drag queens and transgendered people, lesbians and bisexuals, older and younger. This has allowed me to have an understanding and appreciation of so many peoples.
19) If you consider yourself a "political" activist, how do you define this?
I'm politically involved. I started out interning for Congressman Luis Gutierrez in the summer of 1998 in his DC office. After that, I spent two summers interning for Hillary Clinton's first campaign for the Senate. Since then, I've come to work on Capitol Hill, working for Congresswoman Barbara Lee and now the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. I've also volunteered for Congressional campaigns, such as Reps. Allyson Schwartz, John Barrow, and Ciro Rodriguez, who were able to take out incumbent Republicans for office. Also I volunteered for Dan Seals in his unsuccessful bid to unseat Rep. Mark Kirk.
20) Describe what you feel your personal legacy is to the Chicago GLBT community.
Personally, I am most proud when I hear that there are now so many high school Pride clubs and GSAs in the Chicago area, after having been a part of starting the first one in the city of Chicago. I hope to continue to make my mark on Chicago in the coming years. How exactly, I'm not sure.
21) This project is also about "defining moments." Please discuss some of those in your life.
One was in high school when I lobbied to create the Latino/Asian literature class. It taught me that when you want something to happen, it's not going to happen on its own. You need to take action to make it a reality. I learned to find allies – originally, I was just trying for Latino literature – and learned about process (in this case, navigating the Local School Council).
22) Additional comments and memories.
The city of Chicago is full of many vibrant leaders, from a diverse array of backgrounds and experiences. Chicago is like no other city in terms of its feeling of community and the support we have from the city, state, and federal officials. I am so proud to come from a progressive city like Chicago. Had I been raised anywhere else, I don't think I would be the person I am today.