“We’re the Gay Farmworkers:” Advancing Intersectional Im/migration Activism in Central Florida

By Nolan Kline

On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen walked into the Pulse club in Orlando Florida and fatally shot 49 people. The shooting happened at Pulse’s Latin Night, and it disproportionately affected LGBTQ+ Latinx patrons and other LGBTQ+ people of color.  After the shooting, Florida Governor Rick Scott and Florida Attorney Pam Bondi initially failed to acknowledge the attack happened at a gay bar or that the shooting particularly affected LGBTQ+ people of color in Orlando. In response to these erasures, several local LGBTQ+ Latinx organizations demanded increased political rights and worked to dismantle social divisions based on im/migration status, sexual orientation, race, and other markers of social difference.  One organization in particular emerged as a youth-led initiative of the Farmworker Association of Florida (FWAF): The LGBTQ+ farmworker group.

A meeting facilitated by leaders of the LGBTQ+ farmworker group. Photo by Yesica Ramirez.

A meeting facilitated by leaders of the LGBTQ+ farmworker group. Photo by Yesica Ramirez.

The LGBTQ+ Farmworker Group meets monthly and serves as a support and action group for LGBTQ+ youth who live in families with farmworkers, engage in farmwork, or live in farmworker communities. I got to know the group through my current research exploring LGBTQ+ Latinx activism following the Pulse shooting, but I have known the FWAF for several years, collaborating with organization leaders while I was an undergraduate student at the institution where I’m now a faculty member. The group is entirely led by teenagers and is largely organized by Gabi [1], a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient and recent high school graduate. At monthly meetings, the group discusses issues unique to LGBTQ+ Latinx people living in farmworking families, such as the challenges in finding LGBTQ+ social and health services, routine racism, and homophobia in their local communities. The group meets in Apopka—an Orlando exurb with an agricultural history that is rapidly changing as sprawl continues to reshape Orlando’s metropolitan landscape. Although Apopka is approximately a 30-minute drive from downtown Orlando, where numerous LGBTQ+ organizations exist, many of the LGBTQ+ farmworker youth group participants lack a personal vehicle, and a seventy-minute bus ride in one direction limits the feasibility of easily getting to Orlando and back home on a school night. Moreover, LGBTQ+ organizations in Orlando have limited understanding of the concerns that weigh on many of these youths, including the ongoing precarity related to their im/migration statuses and the threats of family separation and deportation.

The LGBTQ+ farmworker group was not formed in a vacuum, however. It is largely supported by local LGBTQ+ Latinx organizations that emerged following the Pulse shooting, and two existing farmworker organizations that have been in Apopka for decades, including FWAF and the Hope Community Center. After the Pulse shooting, leaders of both organizations recognized a need to provide services to young people. A leader from the Hope Community Center explained, “one of the guys who was killed, Arturo—we’ve known his family forever. I saw his name on the news and I immediately went to his parents’ house. When I got there, his father came right out of the house, and he came up to me, and he said, ‘You know, Arturo wasn’t gay.’ And I just thought, ‘Wow. Wow. Your son just died and that’s the first thing you want to tell me? Wow.’ And I knew then we were in trouble and needed to do something more for our LGBT youth, but it couldn’t be from us—it had to be from them.’”

Members of the LGBTQ+ farmworker group at a local restaurant. Photo by Yesica Ramirez.

Members of the LGBTQ+ farmworker group at a local restaurant. Photo by Yesica Ramirez.

Leaders from FWAF, Hope Community Center, and newly-created LGBTQ+ Latinx organizations wanted to keep the LGBTQ+ Latinx farmworker group youth-led as a way to advance intersectional social justice ideals and promote new leadership. For example, the LGBTQ+ Farmworker group received financial support from the Contigo Fund: an organization created after the Pulse tragedy to, among other things, support LGBTQ+ Latinx social justice organizing and to foster new leaders. The LGBTQ+ Farmworker group is one of such organizations. The group’s name arrives out of the group wanting to be explicit about its membership. At a meeting where the group tried to decide what to call themselves, they considered multiple options. After brainstorming names, one member said, “I think we should just be the LGBTQ+ Farmworker group—that’s what we are—we’re the gay farmworkers. Farmworker needs to be in the name.”

Though in its infancy, the LGBTQ+ farmworker group provides support to people at the intersection of unique and overlapping forms of marginalization. At meetings, members discuss xenophobia in school following the election of Donald Trump; how to navigate challenging family dynamics during the holidays as a gay, bisexual, or transgender teenager; and how to best represent LGBTQ+ farmworkers at local pride events. The group has discussed immigration enforcement matters and increasingly aggressive local police tactics, and how such efforts are especially concerning for LGBTQ+ Latinx youth who experience multiple overlapping vulnerabilities. Further, Gabi has also appeared in public forums and was a speaker on a panel at my institution focused on LGBTQ+ intersectional activism following the Pulse shooting.

The emergence and ongoing activism of the youth-led LGBTQ+ Farmworker alliance reveals how im/migrant youth continuously move through numerous social spaces and challenge artificial social boundaries that attempt to organize people based on sexual orientation, documentation and migration status, race, ethnicity, and language ability.  Rather than remaining in such silos, however, leaders of the LGBTQ+ Latinx farmworker group find ways to dismantle them. For example, at Orlando’s pride event, the LGBTQ+ farmworker group used the farmworker association logo to create a rainbow banner, effectively queering the organization’s logo and complicating limited understandings of farmworker and LGBTQ+ identity. Moreover, the group continues to contemplate ways to make LGBTQ+ services more accessible to Central Florida’s farmworker community.

Breaking down artificial silos between LGBTQ+ and im/migration-related groups are especially needed on a global scale, as LGBTQ+ interests and white nationalist interests can align to promote xenophobia and Islamophobia. As I argue in my forthcoming book Pathogenic Policing, one necessary way to combat xenophobia is for groups like LGBTQ+ activists and others to unite and to refuse to be divided based on arbitrary notions of difference, like im/migration status, race, and sexual orientation.


Nolan Kline is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and the Co-Coordinator of the Global Health Program at Rollins College. His book, Pathogenic Policing: Immigration Enforcement and Health in the U.S. South, examines the multiple, hidden, health-related consequences of immigration enforcement policies in the United States. His newest project examines LGBTQ+ Latinx activism following the Pulse shooting in Orlando, Florida.

[1] All names, except for organization names, are pseudonyms.