Puerto Rican Pride Awards Bestowed

At ninth annual ceremony held in Kew Gardens, six Latino leaders recognized for service

The Puerto Rican Initiative to Develop Empowerment (PRIDE) and the Latino Gay Men of New York honored members for their contributions to the Latin American lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community last Friday night, November 19.

The 2004 PRIDE awards, the ninth annual ceremony, were held at the Kew Gardens Community Center in Queens. Earlier PRIDE awards have been held in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan. This year, the group decided to hold the event in Queens to recognize and support community-building efforts throughout New York City, PRIDE president Luis Robles said.

PRIDE, an organization founded in 1995, connects LGBT people of Puerto Rican descent to tackle the community’s concerns, which include racism, homophobia and HIV/AIDS. The group walks in the annual June Puerto Rico Day Parade in New York City, the Gay Pride Parade in Puerto Rico and have campaigned against oppressive HIV laws there as well.

The evening, which began at 6.pm, opened with cocktails and dinner, where the organizers, award recipients and guests socialized. After dinner, Robles introduced the six award winners—Tony O’Rourke-Quintana, Juan Mendez, Lisbeth Melendez Rivera, Maribelle Vazquez, Michelle Sosa and Raquel Algarin.

O’Rourke-Quintana is the executive director of the Bronx Gay and Lesbian Health Resource Consortium, one of the only LGBT community groups in the Bronx. A graduate of the University of Michigan, he has worked as the local campaign coordinator for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and as manager of the HOTT youth street outreach program at the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center. In addition, he serves on the boards of the Gay and Lesbian Dominican Empowerment Organization (GALDE) and the Ali Forney Center, a homeless youth shelter with facilities in Harlem and Hell’s Kitchen. O’Rourke-Quintana is a founding board member of the Out People of Color Political Action Club, and the founder and chair of LLEGO-Michigan, a chapter of the National Latina/o, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Organization.

Juan Mendez is an award winning journalist and activist in the LGBT communities of New York and Puerto Rico. He gave up his job as assistant to the vice president of Orion Pictures to work as an AIDS outreach worker and educator for the Lower East Side Family Union. Since then he has worked as an assistant director of the Homeless Youth Program at the Hetrick Martin Institute, the director of the domestic violence program at the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti Violence Project and deputy director for policy at the Latino Commission on AIDS (LCOA), a position he currently holds. He also serves on the board of directors of GALDE.

Michele Sosa, a recipient of the Hispanic AIDS Forum’s Award for Courage and Promise in the Translatina Community, is a transgendered woman who has been an HIV awareness peer educator since 1999 and now works at the Positive Health Project. Sosa is a LCOA member and has been a guest speaker on transgender issues at the “Reunion Latina” conference. At the Positive Health Project, she works as a prevention case manager, conducting health education workshops for the transgender community, and counseling active substance users.

A nurse by profession, Raquel Algarin was born in Cayey, Puerto Rico and raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In the last 30 years, she has worked in community health care, rape crisis counseling and prevention education for youth. A proponent of “blended medicine,” a combination of alternative and holistic therapies, she is a reiki master and an acupuncture detox specialist. She is a founding member and, currently, the program director of the Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center.

Lisbeth Melendez Rivera, a Puerto Rican lesbian, currently works as a mobilization coordinator at Freedom to Marry, an organization that seeks to win marriage equality nationwide. The former director of community education and training for LLEGO, she has worked with LGBT and labor groups for more than 15 years. She has served on the boards of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, the National Youth Advocacy Coalition and Pride At Work, the queer caucus of the AFL-CIO.

Maribelle Vazquez works as a minister to the Latino LGBT communities. After leaving her church of origin, the Assemblies of God, to join Iglesia Cristo Rey, a Latino LGBT congregation, she became a church leader when it became part of Metropolitan Community Church of New York. Since then, she has been providing spiritual guidance through Arcoiris Latino de Cristo, MCC’s Latino Ministry of New York.

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