The Hispanic Federation’s first out gay president fights for LGBTQ+ Latinx lives

Frankie Miranda, president of the Hispanic Federation Photo: YouTube screenshot

Heading into the presidential election season, Hispanic and Latinx voters are likely to hear a lot about the U.S./Mexico border and LGBTQ+ policies involving minors. But the candidates won’t likely talk about the unique challenges facing Hispanic and Latinx LGBTQ+ communities — challenges like learning English as a second language, increasing ballot access, battling Spanish-language hate and misinformation online, and meeting the needs of trans and queer communities.

Frankie Miranda, the first out gay president and CEO of the Hispanic Federation — an organization dedicated to uniting and empowering Latinx nonprofits nationwide — spoke with LGBTQ Nation about how his group’s work to strengthen Latinx institutions and advance the Hispanic community as a whole. He also shared details about his husband Ricardo and how Ricardo’s immigration struggles informed Miranda’s resolve to fight anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in ways that engaged his ethnic and racial community.

LGBTQ Nation: You have said in the past that when you came to New York City from Puerto Rico, gained your degree from New York University, and began to pursue your graduate studies, that there were limited opportunities for someone like you. Could tell me a little bit more about that?

Frankie Miranda: It was very eye-opening. The original master plan was to continue my PhD, but financial reality just hit me, and I said, “I need to just start working and then… return to Puerto Rico or continue pursuing my PhD.” It was quite frankly a difficult environment for me to start. I was somebody with a thick accent from Puerto Rico with limited experience. It was always kind of the same reactions like, “Great, nice diploma. How many words per minute can you type?” I’m sure that if I looked differently and I spoke differently — probably if I was a straight white person — somebody would have taken a chance and would not think about it.

All my friends were involved somehow in the arts world, and I started in a very informal way by collaborating with nonprofit organizations, and that’s how the opportunity to work for the first time here at the Hispanic Federation was presented…. Coming to the Federation, suddenly all of these elements of my identity, being bilingual, were considered assets. And of course, I was a gay man, and the Federation was already working in critical issues serving the community, [so my gay identity] was another asset. So suddenly, all the things that I thought were disadvantages for me to find a good job or career paths, at the Federation, became assets.

The Federation, founded in 1990, started with HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, organizing, mobilizing, advocating for the community. So that also made me fit in very rapidly into the culture of the Federation. And with the years, and because of my personal experience, also the Federation started expanding its portfolio on advocacy for LGBTQ rights.

My life partner [Ricardo and I], we lived for 10 years as a binational couple before marriage equality became the law of the land. We met in the year 2000. And after living three years together, Ricardo was sent back to Brazil and received a 10-year penalty [for overstaying his U.S. visa]…. For 10 years, we just lived day by day. The moment that Ricardo was going back to Brazil, I turned from somebody who worked at a nonprofit organization to become an advocate. I saw working at a nonprofit organization like the Hispanic Federation as a way to really look at public policy and how it affects people’s lives and was able to share my story.

Every time we were talking about this issue of marriage equality, people used to say to me, “Why don’t you guys settle for domestic partnership, you know? Everybody will be happy with that.” I was like, “Because it’s not the same [as marriage].” Because of my story, I was able to explain that. The moment that I was engaging in conversations with members of my community, of our community — Hispanic, Latino, Latinx, Latine — when we were talking about the issue of family separation as discrimination and bias, and also the immigrant story, people immediately shifted because they understood it through that nature. When we talked about how this is something that can happen to anybody, they related immediately to it. And when we were talking about this issue, all issues about LGBTQ in our community, from the perspective of respect, family, and also discrimination, immediately, there was a light bulb and people were like, “You know, this is not right, and we don’t support this.”

I feel very privileged that I’m in an environment in which many of the things that thought that I was a disadvantage [aren’t]. What I like to say is those scripts and voices in the back of my mind were telling me, “You’re not going to amount to anything because you’re gay, you’re effeminate, you’re queer.” Then suddenly, in this environment, I have been able to have all of these opportunities for development that put me today at the helm of this amazing national organization.

Can tell me a little bit more about how you and your husband met and some of the things you admire about each other?

FM: We met in the year 2000…. I was at this bar in Queens, back in the day and my friend ended up meeting his friend, and while we were in the same space, I actually went home that night and never had the chance to speak to Ricardo. But because my friends started frequenting Ricardo’s apartment, that’s how we got connected. And we went out on a date and the rest is history. We immediately became attached to the hip. There was almost immediately a connection in the fact that we were so different from each other, right?

The thing about Ricardo is he always makes me laugh. I work in a very intense environment — trying to just resolve so many challenges and so many opportunities in our community — and with Ricardo, I always feel that I can come home and that it’s going to be something funny and something light that makes me feel much better about my day because it can be overwhelming working, especially in the times that we’re living.

Can tell us anything about your cat Valentina?

FM: Valentina gets her name from a very famous drag queen who participated in RuPaul’s Drag Race. She’s very famous, you know, she made the cover of Vogue in Mexico, and I had the opportunity to meet Valentina because she was one of the ambassadors for our Advanced Change Together (ACT) initiative initially when we launched that… And my husband Ricardo loves Valentina. He became a number-one fan.

When we were ready to get our first pet, we were debating between a puppy or a kitty. I was told all my whole life that I was allergic to cats, and I believed it wholeheartedly but… I had read books about cats and I watched documentaries about cats and [went] from a completely non-cat person to become the number-one cat person in the world because of the amazing Valentina. She’s beautiful and lovely, and I love her too.

I’m glad that you mentioned the ACT initiative. It gave $1 million in grants to approximately 20 Latinx LGBTQ+ nonprofits, and provided additional development opportunities for the grant recipients. How do you think this investment aided the community amid the rising tide of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and legislation?

Let’s just go back a little bit: When I became president of the Hispanic Federation, I always felt a huge responsibility to elevate Latinx LGBTQ voices and talk more intentionally about the diversity in our community and intersectionality. Before I became president in late December of 2019, the board came up to me and said, “Frankie, we want you to be the person,” and I’m very happy with getting my hands dirty on the daily work on programs and disaster relief and all of that. And then the board said, to me, “Don’t worry. 2020 is going to be a very usual normal year where you’re going to be doing the same things that we normally do from civic engagement, census, and education programs and advocacy and all of that.” And soon, [2020] proves very, very differently.

You know, my first meeting with the senior team after the holiday break, was the earthquake in Puerto Rico, where we had been working very intensely since Hurricane Irma and Maria [amid] the criminal response from the previous federal administration to Puerto Rico. So we needed to reactivate these networks of care that we had created in Puerto Rico. Now a few weeks later, we locked down in New York because of the pandemic. So the urgency and the sense of responsibility to respond to the needs of our LGBTQ-led Latinx organizations had to wait due to the emergent emergency needs of all organizations.

But after we launched what is the largest Latinx emergency funding for organizations… this is when we knew that the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision [overturning abortion rights] was going to come down and not going to come down our way. We knew that once that was done, that the next item on the [conservative] agenda was going to be [targeting] LGBTQ rights. So we started thinking, “How are we going to help our organizations that are Latinx LGBTQ to be able to do their work more effectively?”

And also I noticed that mainstream organizations doing incredible work in this area were not really taking into consideration our specific needs. Probably Latinx LGBTQ voices were a second, third, or fourth level of priority. When we’re really talking about Latinx voices and LGBTQ, [we’re talking about] the perspective of ancestral background, immigration status, English as a second language, all the things that are very particular about our community. [These] were not really in the forefront.

Rather than coming in as institutional philanthropy normally does — which is coming in [like,] “Okay, we’re going to create an opportunity, we’re going to create a framework,” — what I wanted to do was: Let’s identify organizations across the country. Let’s set aside from our funds a million dollars, and we’re going to ask these organizations what are their particular infrastructure capacity needs. We’re going to fund them and we’re going to hear from them. And in exchange, we’re going to start a dialogue about how we can actually improve these organizations and their capacity to advocate locally.

As of today, we have 27 grantees. We already have a convening in which we got all these organizations together, we produced a report looking at the progress of these organizations in the different areas that they wanted to [focus on]. Again, this is about empowering them to have the agency to decide [what] exactly [they] need because, [these diverse organizations] are serving L.A., Phoenix… LGBTQ people in Washington Heights, New York are going to be very different from Orlando, Florida, or Chicago, or going to Los Angeles, or going into any other part of the country.

But then the other side of the coin is this: I was shocked at the little funding that really goes into funding Latinx LGBTQ organizations. When attending the Hispanics Philanthropy Conference earlier this year, [a presenter] was sharing the data that only $5 million a year goes to Latinx LGBTQ-led organizations — and here we are coming in at $1 million, already disrupting these numbers. But it was shocking to hear.

It is known that Latinx organizations in general, are under-resourced and underfunded. Less than 1% of institutional foundation money goes into Latinx organizations. And then on top of that, if we’re going to be talking about LGBTQ organizations, it’s a default, this investment or lack of funding that we are seeing. So here we are, as an organization, trying to double down and say, “Look, with this small investment, at all the things that we’re able to do and provide outcomes, real outcomes, from these organizations.

I believe it was [two weeks ago], the White House had hosted the first Latinx LGBTQ gathering ever done at the White House, and almost half of our grantees were invited. This is enormous progress for these organizations to be invited in. And we’re seeing all our trans sisters being able to be welcomed at the White House. But this is the kind of thing, when [White House officials] came up to me and said, “Frankie, who should we invite?” It’s like, “Here’s the list of the most 27 amazing organizations doing this work around the country.” So this is what we’re trying to build. We’re trying to build that out. These agencies are doing extraordinary work, and we need to do intentional investment in their capacity and the programs that they’re offering.

In a recent interview, you said of social media, “We know there are platforms trying to curb misinformation in English, but we’re still not very clear on how these platforms are tackling misinformation in Spanish.” Critics of social media have repeatedly pointed out that disinformation and bigotry generate a lot of views, clicks, engagement, and money for social media companies. And with right-wing ideologues like Elon Musk taking over Twitter and running rampant on other platforms, there’s little incentive for social media companies to really shut down disinformation and hate. What would you like to see happen to generate meaningful public pressure and change for these companies to take misinformation moderation more seriously?

Well, first, we really need to understand how they are tackling these issues, right? We have some general idea of what they’re trying to do or not trying to do when it comes to English language. But we still are unsure what’s happening with Spanish language content, and what is the commitment or not to really curb this misinformation. Unfortunately, that misinformation goes not only between the United States to our countries of origin [but also from our] ancestral background and back.

So we really want to challenge these social media platforms, that are constantly saying that they can self-monitor and they don’t need any kind of legislation or oversight, to really come forward and say, “What are or aren’t exactly these the efforts that you’re doing?” We’re seeing this as part of the conversation that we have with other sister organizations that are focused with the Hispanic Federation on civic engagement.

We have seen the correlation between this enormous amount of content, rapidly spreading on social media, and the issues of violence and bias against our community. So we really want to ensure that if companies are not going to really be transparent about how they’re doing, then we need to talk about how to regulate this from the perspective of public policy [so that] they are very much aware of the risks that they can run into having government agencies coming in and regulating them.

So raising the issue, being vocal about it, is part of not only our conversation with a social media platform, but also our advocacy on behalf of our communities. Just basically saying, “Don’t forget about this community. Don’t forget about this content. Don’t forget about the enormous amount of bills that are being generated around the country that are anti-LGBTQ and that are [originating] directly from these forums on misinformation in Spanish.”

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