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“Link” to the Past: Materials Bring to Light Pioneering Latina/o Lesbian and Gay Organization

Collection of materials on ENLACE, former advocacy group in Washington, D.C., are available to researchers, students and general public

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Vincent E. Slatt, Emma Busch, Prof. Salvador Vidal-Ortiz, Leti Gomez and Anne McDonough in front of the DC History Center.

In 1987 in Washington, D.C., the Latina/o lesbian and gay organization ENLACE formed and fought discrimination, created a political base for its members, and promoted culture and history. As the earliest known Latina/o lesbian and gay group founded for residents and to address local issues in the city, ENLACE (“link” in English), blazed the trail for organizations that would follow.

Now, thanks to the donation of activist and a former ENLACE president, Letitia “Leti” Gomez, and a collaboration between American University and Rainbow History Project Inc., the District’s local LGBTQ history nonprofit, a vast collection of primary source documents from the organization’s founding through its closure in 1995 are available to researchers, students, and the general public in both the District and beyond. The physical documents are now part of the Rainbow History Project collection at DC History Center. The digital version is available through American University Library’s Archives and Special Collections. Both collections are free and accessible to all who seek to study, learn and publish about ENLACE’s contributions. 

ENLACE marching in 1993 March on Washington; Left to right, holding banner: Letitia Gomez, Yajaira Arreaza.

“This is an action to make this history of Latino/a LGBT organizing in the D.C. metro area visible, to preserve the seven-year history of ENLACE’s existence and impact, and to make it accessible,” said Gomez. “Through our existence, our events, and our activities, we made our Latino/a LGBT community visible to each other, the greater Latino community and the LGBT community. We showed Latino/a LGBT people that they could be proud of all of who they were.”

The collection includes materials related to the activities of ENLACE, a volunteer-run organization, including meeting agendas, five-year strategic plans, bi-monthly or quarterly newsletters, committee reports, and volunteer and membership lists; and political materials such as presentations and depositions about domestic violence, AIDS, gay and lesbian rights, homophobia in Latina/o communities and racism in gay and lesbian white ones; fliers about the group’s cultural events and other promotional material; and clippings of The Washington Blade newspaper coverage of the organization, as well as El Tiempo Latino and other Latina/o media.

ENLACE marching in D.C. Pride Parade 1992; Left to right: Unknown woman (holding banner), Manuel Guevara (under banner), Ric Mendoza, Dennis Medina (holding banner)

The collection has some material on AIDS-related correspondence, and some material on immigration rights; it also includes local, national, and international correspondence. The collection also includes photographs of the organization’s participation in gay pride marches. ENLACE was active in the timeframe of the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights of 1987 and the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation of 1993; the photographs document some of those marches.

“Rainbow History Project is honored to acquire Leti’s collection and preserve it in our archives,” said Vincent E. Slatt, RHP’s director of archiving. “Including Latino/a history is part of our mission to document all of metropolitan Washington, D.C.’s diverse LGBTQ+ communities.”

Emma Busch, Prof. Salvador Vidal-Ortiz and Letitia Gomez inside the Kiplinger Research Library in the DC History Center.

ENLACE is one of three documented political and socio-cultural organizations in the District that focused on Latina/o lesbian and gay rights in the 1980s. At present, there are few published sources about ENLACE, according to Gomez and Salvador Vidal-Ortiz, associate professor of sociology at AU. Queer Brown Voices, a book of oral history narratives of Latina/o lesbian and gay activists, published in 2015 and edited by Vidal-Ortiz, Uriel Quesada and Gomez, features the work of ENLACE.

According to Vidal-Ortiz, an expert in Latinx, sexuality and queer studies, in LGBTQ history in the U.S., archives and collections that center the experiences of white LGBTQ people are most prominent. It is unique for the District to have a local resource such as the ENLACE collection. The few existing collections of documents of Latina/o lesbian and gay groups are outside the District.

“As a scholar, teacher and researcher, access to the ENLACE collection opens up numerous opportunities,” said Vidal-Ortiz. Vidal-Ortiz’s student and recent AU graduate, Emma Busch, spent the last year preparing and scanning close to 500 materials to create the digital archive.

“The breadth of opportunity here is unparalleled. I can see the collection being useful for scholars, students and research projects that engage in topics concerning D.C. communities, activism, race, and migration. It will also be useful for researchers in the social sciences, local policy governance and in the humanities.”