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From the streets to the state Congress, Sonora’s LGBTQ movement builds power

Just over a year ago, in front of Sonora’s state Congress, a large crowd was quietly waiting for updates from inside. With rainbow flags fluttering in the wind, shouts went up whenever there was a vote for the marriage equality measurebeing considered.

And when it finally cleared the necessary threshold, the crowd erupted.

Sonorans could now marry their same-sex partners without the additional — and often expensive and onerous — legal barriers they had faced for years. In the year since it took effect, more than 350 couples have taken advantage of their newly won right, according to state civil registry data requested by KJZZ News. In the preceding six years, fewer than half that many — just 157 couples — had done so, and had to go through a court process first.

But the legislative win didn’t come easy, and was the culmination of years of organizing and pressure from the growing LGBTQ movement in Sonora.

Making demands

“The demands that are on (our) agenda, all are aimed at creating a more equitable society,” said Abraham Carreño, a part of the Sonoran LGBTTTIQ+ Coalition, composed of 12 or so different groups and dozens of active members across the state. “And we want to completely eliminate discrimination.”

The marriage equality reform was one demand on the group’s political agenda, which is no mere wish list: during the 2021 electoral campaign, four gubernatorial candidates — including the current Gov. Alfonso Durazo — signed on to it, as did dozens of mayoral and state congressional candidates, seven of whom were elected to the new legislature that approved the marriage reform within weeks of starting work.

In the prior legislature, reforms were approved allowing transgender Sonorans to easily correcttheir birth certificates and increasing punishmentsfor murder when the victim is targeted for their gender expression or sexual orientation. Both reflected demands from the coalition’s 2018 agenda.

“More and more, the government, political parties or brands are turning their attention to the community,” Carreño said.

He pointed to recent federal datashowing more Mexicans are identifying as members, reflecting a growing societal acceptance, especially among younger people. Two-thirds of those who identify as LGBT are between the ages of 15 and 29. Just 20% are 30 to 44.

But Carreño noted that the last several years are outliers from the community’s decades of struggle in Sonora and across the country. While he celebrates the recent advances, “if we look at the whole thing, the whole history of LGBT rights, the reality is it’s been very slow,” he said.

And many demands remain unmet.

'Nothing to cure'

In June, Hermosillo’s pride march — the largest to date, organizers say — had a rallying cry for the thousands of attendees: nada que curar, or "nothing to cure," a simple declaration that being gay or trans is not something that can or should be cured.

It was a reference to the coalition’s next legislative target: a ban on so-called conversion therapies, a number of practices intended to change sexual orientation or gender identity that the United Nations says can amount to torture.

Less than a week later, a bill to do just that was introduced by Deputy Rosa Elena Trujillo, who cited the loud demands from pride marchers. In a recent national survey, around 10% of lesbian, gay and bisexual Mexicans said their parents forced them to see professionals to alter their orientations, and a slightly higher proportion of trans Mexicans experienced similar efforts regarding their gender identity.

Lost time

In late September, coalition members, legislators, other officials and members of the public gathered at the state Congress for a forum on the measure.

Near the start, the lights dimmed for a viewing of the short film"Para: Sarah," a jarring, compelling story about two young women’s secret romance. After confessing its existence to a priest, one of the women ends the relationship and undergoes electroshock therapy.

Erica Salinas, the director, was at the forum, and said the film was inspired by her personal experiences coming of age in Sonora.

“No one is going to erase what happened to me 20 years ago,” she told the rapt audience. “No one is going to give me that lost time back.”

But she told the state deputies present that it’s in their hands to make sure no more Sonorans suffer as she did.

After the event, Trujillo, the measure’s sponsor, said that this legislature is different from past bodies, where such reforms have floundered, and is hopeful it will be passed before the current regular session ends in December. Earlier this month, a similar measure passedthe Mexican Senate, though those involved in the Sonoran effort said it will proceed regardless of the national bill’s fate.

“No, definitely not,” Trujillo said when asked if the Sonoran measure’s introduction — let alone its potential passage — was imaginable in the absence of the state’s LGBT movement.

Salinas is also hopeful about the reform’s passage, and said the fight for it has been a part of her recovery from the trauma she endured. But getting to this moment had a steep price.

“What we’re seeing today,” she said. “We owe it to a lot of people who really took risks, when social struggle could cost you your life.”

And, she added, that they have no intention of giving up the power they’ve won.

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Murphy Woodhouse was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2018 to 2023.