June is the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, often regarded as the tipping point in the modern gay rights movement and earning its recognition as Pride Month. Houston Press met with members of the LGBTQ community to learn more about their experiences belonging to this group. These are their stories.
Coming out of the closet is always more fun the second time around – just ask Lourdes Zavaleta. The 26-year-old Houstonian’s attraction to both women and men is one that she first suppressed, but now she sees her experience in the LGBT community as one that has given her the ability to be a catalyst for change.
“I first started having queer feelings probably around middle school. I knew I liked girls but because I come from a very religious and Latino family, I didn't think that was something that I would ever explore,” she said. “This is also around the late 2000s/early 2010s, so marriage equality wasn't a thing yet.”
After graduating from Dobie High School, Zavaleta enrolled at University of Houston as a journalism major, which she felt created a safe space for her.
“While I was in college, I wanted to be a part of the LGBT community but didn't know how to do it without basically outing myself. So, I started to do it through journalism. In my classes or when writing for the school paper, I would try to pitch LGBT topics just so I would have a way to get myself in the space without having to say, ‘I'm here because I want to be here,’ and instead could say, ‘I'm here because I'm doing an assignment.’ That created a little bubble for me,” Zavaleta recalled.
At the same time, she felt that she was living a double life. During her time in college, she was learning more and more about the LGBT community. At home, she was still closeted to her parents. But come graduation, that soon changed.
“I met my partner when I was 21, and we started dating secretly for a few months. Then, I graduated college, which was another part of the story. Growing up with Baptist parents and hearing some pretty negative things about the LGBTQ community from the church that we went to, I didn't want to come out until after I graduated because, worst case scenario, I could move out as soon as I completed my degree,” Zavaleta said. “After I graduated, I came out to my parents as a lesbian, and then a few months later, they found out that I was dating a girl.”
Lourdes Zavaleta has a knack for keeping it cool, calm, and collected.
Photo by Aubrey Arnold
That would not be the end of her coming out experience. Now that her parents and friends knew she identified as lesbian, they were in for a shock when Zavaleta came out of the closet a second time around.
“After two years of dating, my partner told me that he wanted to transition to the male gender. Prior to that, I think I was identifying as lesbian only because at the time, it seemed like that was the person that I was dating and that's who I felt like I best aligned with. But in the back of my mind, I didn't know that I was totally sure about that label. I had been thinking about that for a while. When my partner told me he wanted to transition, I said I had to tell him something too."
She told him that she might not be lesbian but instead that she might be bisexual and that she could date anyone.
“We both came out to each other at the same time, and we've been together almost five years now,” she said.
Soon enough, word got around that Zavaleta was bisexual, which left some of her family and friends confused.
“I think the funniest thing that I sometimes hear is that bisexual people are just confused. I am confused about many things…but not about my sexuality, and that was something I had to work through,” she mentioned. “Some of my immediate family members didn’t understand, and they asked what happened since I told them previously I was lesbian. I explained that I didn’t really know…but that I just like people, and that’s the end of that.”
At that point in her life and fully accepting of her sexuality, Zavaleta felt the need to get involved politically, especially as a queer female of color. After all, her father is an immigration attorney and her mother, an elementary school teacher in an underserved Latino community, immigrated from Mexico in her teens and is now a U.S. citizen. How could she not use her talents to stand up for marginalized communities?
She used her journalism skills to write articles about local elections, and she volunteered for Election Protection. The national, nonpartisan Election Protection coalition includes more than 100 local, state and national partners who work year-round to advance and defend the right to vote. Her previous contributions to civic engagement and potential to continue her involvement earned the attention from the League of Women Voters of Texas, who named her a Rising Star in 2020.
“About 30 leaders in Houston were selected to be a part of this program that trained us for a year in community building, and it was very focused on elections. Through the program, I was a part of a group that focused on homelessness and voting. And I wanted to be a part of that group because there’s a high percentage of homeless youth who are LGBTQ,” she said. “I helped the league put together voter registration drives for the LGBTQ/homeless community, and I helped to create an FAQ page for unhoused voters, and it was published in the league's 2021 voting guide.”
Zavaleta’s star is continuing to rise still. Most recently, South Texas College of Law accepted her into its program so that she can one day work in LGBTQ, immigration and women’s rights issues. And as for her family, she says that they are making strides in accepting their daughter’s sexuality and relationship.
She said, “When I first came out, they didn't totally understand it at the time, but I think every day is a new step in a better direction. Right now, we're in the process of planning a day where they’re going to meet my partner for the first time. We've been together for five years, so to me, this is a really good sign.”