Hartford's Gay Puerto Ricans Find A Role Model in Pedro Segarra
Local gay and lesbian activists look to Hartford’s new mayor as an example
July 20, 2010
When Pedro Segarra took over as Hartford’s mayor following former Mayor Eddie Perez’s fraud conviction, Julio Morales knew Segarra’s days as counsel for Claro, Inc., were over.
Morales is the founder and former president of Connecticut Latina/os Achieving Rights & Opportunities (Claro), a nonprofit dedicated to promoting equality for Latina and Latino “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex” people.
“We want to validate this community as Puerto Rican and as gay,” says Morales. “Gay Puerto Ricans have been extremely powerless. In general being gay and Puerto Rican is difficult.”
Morales says Segarra, who is gay and Puerto Rican, helped Claro formulate its bylaws and helped the 501c3 organization with legal questions over the years, although he never joined himself.
“As a result of being mayor he can’t do that anymore, so we have a new legal counsel,” says Morales.
Segarra was a student of Morales’ at the University of Connecticut’s School of Social Work, where Segarra received an undergraduate degree before going on to law school.
“I’ve known [Segarra] since he was 22 years old and I know what a good person he is,” says Morales. “I think he’s an important symbol in both the gay community and the Puerto Rican community. He’s the first gay Puerto Rican mayor of a major city and among the few openly gay mayors anywhere.”
Linda Estabrook, executive director of the Hartford Gay and Lesbian Health Collective, agrees that Segarra has become an important symbol for Hartford’s gay and lesbian community, and especially for the city’s LGBT youth.
“[Segarra is] a visible, prominent gay person of power and influence in the community they can look to as a role model and a possibility for their lives,” says Estabrook. “So much of gay culture has been closeted and you didn’t have visible role models. To have a role model that includes a mayor of a city the size of Hartford is important.”
Dan Millett, in charge of client services at the Health Collective, says Segarra and his long-time partner have been involved in the organization’s annual major fundraiser for the past four or five years, serving as table captains for the event that typically brings in nearly $75,000.
“He brings friends to attend the event and gets people involved in attending and supporting us,” says Millett.
The Health Collective’s primary mission is focused on HIV prevention, particularly among black gay and bisexual men.
“That’s a really important population for us to work with in particular because the incidence of HIV [among that population] is on the rise,” says Estabrook.
Estabrook says Segarra will have an impact on Hartford, and perhaps beyond, in a “whole variety of ways,” including negative ways on those who are homophobic and “think this is just horrendous that a gay person holds political office.”
“It’s an interesting experience to represent a gay and lesbian organization,” says Estabrook. “When you introduce yourself and say you work for the Gay and Lesbian Health Collective most people are intrigued and want to know more, but there are those people who back away from you.”
Hartford overall is “pretty accepting” of the gay and lesbian community, says Estabrook, despite the conventional wisdom often expressed that the Puerto Rican culture is particularly homophobic.
“I think it’s very hard to say that one culture would be more homophobic than another,” says Estabrook. “It exists throughout the country.”
Morales says he’s heard the same claims about the Puerto Rican culture, and that as a result Claro is planning to do a community survey on that very topic of homophobia to find out if it’s true. Are Puerto Ricans more homophobic than Peruvians, for example? Morales hopes the survey will provide some answers.
“People keep saying [Puerto Ricans are homophobic] and it may very well be true. You hear the same thing about the black community,” says Morales. “We do know that people who are more educated, people who are younger, tend to be more accepting of gays.”
Whatever Claro’s survey ends up showing, Morales says he believes Segarra can shatter stereotypes, and that “shattering stereotypes is very important.”
“He’s genuine, he’s authentic and that comes through,” says Morales of Segarra. “He’s confident in himself. I think he’s got an awful lot of good attributes rolled up into one package, and people like him.”