Tony Rivera


Tony Alvarado-Rivera

1) Birthdate:


3) Birthplace:

Chicago, Illinois. Started in Lincoln Park and then Bucktown. Through gentrification was ousted and grew up in Cicero, Illinois and the Little Village neighborhood.

4) City/state where you live currently:

Chicago, Illinois, in Logan Square.

5) Education:

DePaul University

6) Career:

Community Organizer. Currently working for Howard Brown Health Center’s Broadway Youth Center as the Program Coordinator of a new mentor program that connects LGBT Youth with LGBT Adults to build healthy positive relationships and foster intergenerational dialogue.

7) Did you serve in the U.S. military?


8) How do you describe your sexuality and your gender?

Hmm…I identify my sexuality as queer and my gender as male(ish) with a gender-non-conforming expression.

9) Do you have children and/or grandchildren?


10) If you are GLBT, please describe when you first “knew.”

Growing up I never knew of any real term to describe myself, I just new I was different – like the experience of so many people. I started to hear the word “maricon” and realized that what I felt was something bad/shameful. I would watch Spanish language (Mexican) movies and would see images of “gay men” who were very effeminate, ridiculed and not taken seriously. Growing up I knew that I wanted to be taken seriously and I didn’t want to be put down. Naturally I tried to suppress my expression, but I was always kinda faggoty – had long hair, care bear shoes, diva dreams, etc.

11) Who did you first “come out” to and when?

During 7th and 8th grade I started to be perceived as gay, but I never really cared much about what others were saying. By then I already knew that I was something different, but remained pretty neutral and asexual.

I also had never really met or seen Latino LGBT people in my family, neighborhood, or in the media, and would often think to myself, “Well, I can’t be gay ‘cause I’m not white.”

My sophomore year at Morton East High School (Cicero) there started to be more LGBT visibility thanks to some of the brave students, and I began to involve myself with an Amnesty International club in my school which exposed me to more queer youth through conferences we would attend. In my junior year I had decided I was going to come out. I told my best friend that I was gay and he freaked out – partially because of his own internalized homophobia and his inability to deal with his own sexuality at the time.

Our relationship sadly ended, but I came out at school and began working to change attitudes of LGBT people with my activism work with the Morton East Gay and Straight Alliance (MEGASA) and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education (GLSEN) Chicago chapter.

12) What troubles did you face as a GLBT person?

Thankfully, coming out in high school was not as traumatic as one would imagine. I was very active in school and had a great community around me that protected me from serious gay-bashing. The principal and security staff of the school were, however, the main enablers of discrimination. School security guards would often call students “fags” or make “that’s-so-gay” comments.

As senior class president, I worked closely with the principal. At prom, he COMPLETELY ignored me and my boyfriend (who also went to Morton East), which was disheartening and very clear as to how administration can fiercely reject and marginalize LGBT students.

When I came out to my parents my senior year the results were somewhat unexpected. My mom completely freaked out and my dad wouldn’t even look at me. For months I would come home to an empty house and food in the microwave. Neither of my parents would talk to me – it was the first time in my life that I have ever truly felt unloved by my parents.

While coming out I was so active in LGBT organizing. I would go to school and be a fierce activist, while at home I would put away my rainbows and go to my room. The community was so embracing of me. Thanks to people like Toni Armstrong Jr. and several other role models.

13) Did you have mentors in the Chicago GLBT community?

I have had the privilege of having many mentors in the LGBT community. Many. If it were not for them I would not have lived so many beautiful experiences as I have in my young life.

Toni Armstrong Jr. was a wonderful mentor. She talk me about safer schools organizing, LGBT history, passion, feminism, diversity. She insisted – over my strong objections – that I bring my mother to the GLSEN event where I was receiving a high-prestige scholarship. She sat my mom with Spanish-speaking women from Amigas Latinas, which was a good move. This night, plus the positive newspaper coverage I received, marked the beginning of the healing that happened within my family. I call Toni my crazy lesbian aunt.

Then there were people like Tracy Baim who supported my writing as a queer young person of color and put me in En La Vida newspaper; Megan Carney and Brian Goodman of About Face Youth Theatre who taught me storytelling and theatre as a tool for social change and activism, as well as gave me opportunities to be present in the community.

I had the opportunity of meeting beautiful and amazing and intense workers such as Mona Noriega, Evette Cardona, Mary Morten, and Julio Rodriguez.

I am what I am now because of these and so many other people in the LGBT community. I pick and pull from my experience, my talks, peoples histories, their actions, etc. and they run through me. It is because of my mentors that I am where I am now and allow me to do the revolutionary work that I currently am doing.

14) List organizations (GLBT or mainstream) you have been involved in:

Howard Brown Broadway Youth Center (program coordinator)
Alvarado/Garcia Scholarship (founder, with ALMA)
Entre Familia Spanish-speaking PFLAG chapter (co-founder)
Unidos National Latino LGBT Human Rights organization (board member)
Association of Latino Men for Action/ALMA (volunteer and organizer)
Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network/GLSEN Chicago (member and organizer)

15 When you were coming out, what were your favorite Chicago GLBT bars?

Folks around my age didn’t have many options for going out dancing in clubs much. I was a part of the Belmont street culture during the summers, which looks different now. We also had the Royal in Logan Square. Young folx from all over the city and even burbs would come on Thursday nights to party and build community. That place was filled with many firsts I am sure; first kisses, first relationships, first drink, first same-gender dancing, first break-ups, first fist fights outside in the parking lot. It seriously is a landmark for many people my age.

Then there were also the FUEL Youth monthly dances, which were much more innocent and a celebration of gayness. There were youth drag shows, raffles; it was a cute place for youth to build community on the North Side – but it definitely didn’t have the big sexual atmosphere that youth feel now.

16) What were the key issues faced in the GLBT community when you first came out?

To me there was a much fiercer youth movement. Young folks were doing safer schools organizing; GLSEN Chicago would hold Youth Leadership Summits that eventually brought 70-plus youth from all over Chicago and burbs.

While working with About Face Youth Theatre (AFYT), youth at that time were big activists and organizers in our community. We were talking about HIV/AIDS amongst youth, we were talking about the internet, adults preying on youth. We were introducing intergenerational dialogue and storytelling of our experiences. We were also on the forefront of talking about sexuality as being fluid, gender as being fluid – we would talk about trans issues.

17) What issues do you see as key in the GLBT community today?

I may have a different political perspective, but to me I feel cross-issue organizing is what we need to start focusing on. Issues that pertain to the LGBT community are issues that pertain to people with disabilities, poor folx, people of color folx, etc. We need to be talking about economic justice, health care, racial justice, liberation.

18) How have AIDS and other health issues impacted your life personally?

Many youth now have access to health services and education about safer sex. It’s very common for young folx to educate each other – however, we still see several queer youth of color who are HIV positive in our community. In my own personal thinking, I hear about HIV/AIDS. I don’t have the experience of losing one, two, 10, or even 20 of my closet friends to HIV/AIDS. Youth don’t have that same experience. There is a huge gap in our community and youth aren’t told about these beautiful, giving, strong, loving people. Folx my age view HIV/AIDS as a completely different disease.

19) How would you describe the “diversity” within the Chicago GLBT community?

Institutionally speaking, our LGBT community is sexist. And racist. And classist. But then I also feel there are people trying to be allies. I can go on and on about race, class, and gender issues in our community. No one is talking about it. People are scared.

I do feel that even as we speak there is a brewing of racial tension within our community and we will see it come out soon. Very soon. Progressive folx are talking about oppression, ending oppression – and our community isn’t ready to deal with it. Our institutions are not ready to deal with it.

20) If you consider yourself a “political” activist, how do you define this?

I don’t identify as a political activist, but I do wish politicos – especially queer ones – were more progressive and radical than “liberals.”

21) Describe what you feel your personal legacy is to the Chicago GLBT community.

I want my legacy to be true to my experiences and my spirit. I recently had an altercation with someone in the community who I greatly respected. She was doing great work with women’s health, very trans inclusive, very big in our community. She talked the talk, but then I realized she wasn’t doing any of the walking – so to speak. It reminded me that I want to live by an anti-oppression framework.

I want to practice what I preach – knowing that I can be wrong. I never want to become an “untouchable activist,” which she has become. I want people to hold me accountable. I want my people, my community, to hold me accountable, knowing that I am working for a community in my heart. Chicago is my home, and I want my home to be a beautiful place. I want to make it into a beautiful place.

I want someone to some day say – Tony Alvarado-Rivera is my mentor.

22) This project is also about “defining moments.” Please discuss some of those in your life.

Wow. I don’t know. I am still youngish…

I love Lesbian processing. I’m big on processing.

I guess I just can’t believe I am living this life. Being out. Changing the landscape of our community. Meeting and learning from some of the most beautiful people in the world. People who I can call my mentors.

Chicago is like no other. Chicago is just growing. Our LGBT community is growing. And I promise you that as I grow with it that I will take our stories and share them with our children. We have given so much. We have shaped this city. We will be remembered.

Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City's Gay Community, the book is edited by Tracy Baim and features the contributions of more than 20 prominent historians and journalists. It is published by Surrey Books, an Agate imprint, and is hard cover, 224 pages, 4-color, with nearly 400 photos.
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