Content warning: This story includes discussion of suicidal ideation.
As Spanish-speaking Mexican immigrants from the town of Gómez Farías in Chihuahua, Mexico, Arturo Castillo’s parents struggled to get their house in the South Valley near Coors and Blake.
When Castillo’s family first immigrated, they lived in a small room with their father and mother who was pregnant with their little brother, along with two older siblings. Their father is a drywall finisher, and their mother abandoned plans to study nursing in her home country to become a domestic worker in the United States.
Castillo, a queer and nonbinary first-generation New Mexican, loved growing up in the South Valley and felt at home there, because they had many Latino and Hispanic neighbors.
However, throughout their schooling, Castillo never once felt safe in their academic setting coming out about their mixed immigration status family or about their identity as a queer person.
“Because I’m very much intersectional — in every sense of the word — there were a lot of parts of my identity that were left out,” Castillo said. “As a young kid, I knew that I was different, but I didn’t know why, specifically.”
At the request of Equality New Mexico Executive Director Marshal Martinez, Castillo testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of House Bill 207, which expanded the state’s Human Rights Act by adding gender identity and gender among the characteristics protected by anti-discrimination law.
Castillo used to work with the New Mexico Youth Alliance, mainly on afterschool and educational issues, and met a couple of other queer people at the Gay Student Alliance at their middle school.
But there was no GSA at South Valley Academy at the time, and they were not able to truly embrace who they were until graduating from high school and attending college outside of New Mexico.
They said they always felt they would be put through hell if everyone knew who they truly were, or the rest of their family. They came out to two teachers they trusted, one of whom encouraged them to pursue a project about the effects of media on young people.
“I couldn’t come out to my fellow peers,” Castillo said. “I felt like if I did, my life would turn into a living hell, because I saw the way that queer kids were treated whenever they were out.”
They started having suicidal thoughts when they felt like they couldn’t turn to anyone.
“I think as I started to get older, I realized that I’m not your typical Mexican — at the time — boy,” Castillo said.
If not for their sister Paola Castillo and her support, Arturo would not be alive today, they said. She was the first person they came out to, just before their 15th birthday.
Now, they keep hearing stories of others like them living in fear because of how queer people are constantly attacked across the United States.
“We’re changing things for the better, and these kids are finally going to have a fighting chance,” Castillo said. “Because I know that when we grew up, we didn’t have that chance, and I know that a lot of people that I love are no longer here anymore because of that.”
Standing in Sen. Carrie Hamblen’s office at the New Mexico Legislature, Arturo Castillo recalled the room was about the same size as the one his family lived in when they first immigrated from Chihuahua. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)
Castillo is now a program associate with Conservation Voters New Mexico.
“If I don’t feel safe, as a 27-year-old nonbinary Mexican in the United States, I can just only imagine how other queer, nonbinary and trans kids feel right now,” Castillo said.
It’s easy to not always pay attention to issues when you’re not a part of them, Arturo said, but they think lawmakers were moved by just meeting them.
“Queer kids’, and trans kids’, and nonbinary kids’ lives are in danger, like everyday,” Arturo said.
Sen. Leo Jaramillo (D-Española) shared Arturo’s story on the floor of the New Mexico Senate as senators voted on the legislation.
It means the world to Castillo that the Legislature passed the bill and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed it into law.
“It means that queer and nonbinary and trans kids like me growing up in this state will not be in that position of fear always,” Castillo said.
Laws like the Human Rights Act must include all aspects of their identity, Jaramillo said.
If Arturo experienced discrimination in a public institution because they are Mexican, they would be protected but only under federal law, Jaramillo said. If they experienced discrimination because they are queer or non binary, they would have no protections under current state or federal law, he said.
Many institutions like school districts, Castillo said, can and do discriminate, or kick someone out of a classroom, or even out a student to their family.
“It’s very easy to say, ‘Well, on the federal level there are some protections,’ but really there’s not, if you really think about it,” Castillo said.
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Lawmakers cannot create protections for all young people to end depression, anxiety, stigma, or suicidal intentions, Jaramillo said.
“However, we can ensure, in this political environment, that those charged with educating and protecting young people do so for LGBTQ+ youth everywhere in New Mexico,” Jaramillo said. “Let’s set a proper example across the nation and exemplify how many lives can be saved due to this critical piece of legislation.”
For any young queer or trans New Mexican who may not understand why they feel so different, or might not fully understand all the debate is about, Castillo would tell them that they are important, they matter, and “their story is just beginning.”
Castillo said there will be people in those children’s lives who are going to love them, but they haven’t met yet. There will also be people who decide not to be there for them, who were never meant to be in their life, and that’s OK, Castillo said.
“You’re not alone, and we love you,” Castillo said. “Whenever you’re ready to be in this space with us, we will gladly open our arms and support you, and uplift you.”