Ronnie Veliz, executive director of Somos Familia Valle, the Northeast Valley LGBTQ organization, held the group’s banner proudly as he walked in the Gay Pride/Resist March in West Hollywood last Sunday.
This was far different than last year when he and members of his group blocked the street route of the famous West Hollywood Gay Pride parade in protest of what he considered to be an event that had become more about partying and promotion for local businesses and advertisers than centered on concerns.
“We blocked the parade for about 45 minutes last year because we needed to stop with the corporate parading. We were mourning the loss of two Trans people in the Valley who had been killed and then the massacre [at the Pulse Nightclub] in Orlando had just occurred,” Veliz said.
“We needed to have a social justice march. People of color were dying.”
Veliz shared that two young people who had found their way to Somos Familia Valle, actually “came out” to their families on the night of the Orlando massacre.
“On that night, one was asked by his father why he was crying and he told him that those who had died in Orlando were like him.”
It was on June 12 last year that Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old security guard, killed 49 people and wounded 58 who were dancing and enjoying a night out inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, FL, that was hosting a “Latin Night.” Most of those inside the club were Latinos. It was the deadliest mass shooting by a single shooter and the deadliest incident of violence against LGBTQ people in the history of the United States.
This Saturday, June 17, Somos Familia Valle is extending the work that it does in local schools and in the community by holding the 1st Annual San Fernando Valley LGBTQ+ Youth Ball.
“It’s a free dance party for youth ages 10-18. We are having this event during the same week that the Orlando tragedy occurred,” said Veliz, who added they aim to show young people that they can have the time of their life on the dance floor without drinking or getting high.
The organization currently works with parents on issues related to “acceptance” and at local schools to help kids who are being harassed and bullied. It discusses the issue of “consent” that teaches them to protect themselves, and their right to set their personal boundaries.
The other work the organization focuses on is to offer a place of support for those who are the most disenfranchised.
“Immigrants — those who are low-income, women, Muslims in the LGBTQ community — are disproportionately discriminated against. Trump is attacking us all, and those at the bottom need help the most,” Veliz maintains.
“It wasn’t until Trump got elected that people got our message,” he said. “LGBTQ, Latinx, people of color are under constant attack and we’re very happy that this year the parade turned into a [Resist] march, which turned into empowerment and unity. We have a very strong political voice when we are together.”
The Somos Familia Valle 1st annual LGBTQ+ Youth Ball will be held on Saturday, June 17, from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. in the San Fernando Odds Fellow Lodge, located at 401 North Hagar Street in the City of San Fernando. The event is free.