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ALMA Board Member, Dulce Quintero, Honored by Secretary of IL Department of Human Services

For the first time in the history of the State of Illinois, a department head has recognized a senior level staff person in their department for their work in the LGBTQ+ community.

"The message I want to share on this last day of LGBTQ+ Pride month is that LGBTQ+ people don't have to be famous or do extraordinary things to be worthy of dignity and respect.

But right here at IDHS, there is an extraordinary leader who has shared so generously about her love and advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community, Assistant Secretary Dulce Quintero, long-time advocate for and champion of the LGBTQ+ community. She has shared a bit of herself with us, to help us reflect on and close out LGBTQ+ Pride month:"

Pride Month is a time to celebrate the incredible progress the LGBTQIA community has made in pursuit of dignity, equality, and acceptance. The Stonewall Riots of 1969 were a launching pad for the LGBTQ liberation movement. This movement has continued to evolve into a celebration of acceptance, inclusivity, comradery, advocacy, and social justice. Let us continue to hold this celebration alongside a deepened commitment to fight for equality for the LGBTQIA community.

This week we recognize Illinois Own. Below you will read an interview with our very own Assistant Secretary and can view a slideshow about individuals who have advocated for the LGBTQ community, blazed trails in their own rights and helped to inspire others along the way.

Interview with Assistant Secretary Dulce Quintero, IDHS

(Full Transcribed Interview)

What is your full name?

Dulce M. Quintero

Where did you grow up? (You can share a city, a neighborhood, a type of community)

I come from very humble beginnings, moving around throughout much of my childhood. I have experienced having lived in large urban areas such as Chicago and Mexico City as well as small rural towns in California where my parents were migrant workers, as well as parts of central and northern Mexico, near my parents' hometowns. At a young age I saw what resource scarcity and lack of infrastructure could do to whole communities of people, such as the plight of the migrant farmworkers. Lack of responses from systems of education, human services to seeing first-hand the families broken due to lack of documentation, the cost of wage exploitation, impact of housing instability and intergenerational poverty. Later in my youth I volunteered in the migrant camps to working with illiterate children that accompanied their parents in the agricultural fields. All these experiences have molded me to work towards positive change in the world.

What is one thing most people don't know about you?

What most likely comes to mind when people think of me, would be my direct service work and community organizing. What they probably don't know is that my spirituality is what fuels me to do that work. My spiritual practice is- gathering strength by connecting to nature, my ancestors, and culture, as well as utilizing meditation and prayer for grounding and balance.

What does LGBTQ+ Pride mean to you?

It is a remainder of all activists past, present and future who are part of fighting and advocating, for a world where everyone can exist without shame, fear and be free to be who they want to be.

For me LGBTQ PRIDE is being able to exist. It's having access to dignity, visibility, and respect.

Although pride is a celebration it is also a time when I reflect on the fight to come. Ongoing struggles, it reminds me how we have a ways to go when it comes to representation throughout our ranks, how we acknowledge for example that there are LGBTQ people with disabilities and that we have cultural responsiveness to these groups during pride month and beyond. Pride is about policies like no discrimination will be tolerated in our places of work, and it is also about ensuring, welcoming, and accepting and supportive environment 24/7/365. We have pride because of the movement led by trans women of color such as our legendary giants Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, both fought on behalf for LGBTQ peoples facing economic injustice issues, HIV/AIDS and access to life saving resources while they themselves confronted their own issues of housing instability, mental health, substance use and issues related to survivorhood at the same time.

Unfortunately, many of the same issues are still with us today, but I am confident that DHS is positioned to help uplift and support more positive social change for our LGBTQ community members. With our equity work we work together to integrate more than lip service to diversity and inclusion. We are poised to usher more strategic efforts to build our internal capacity to better serve, attract more talent, and retain our veteran staff.

And I always try as much as I can to be unapologetic about integrating my activism into my work. I'm not closeted on my beliefs that all people deserve their dignity and to be free from shame and anguish for accessing services. In previous roles I have made sure facilities had restrooms that were gender neutral, brought training so staff were equipped with not just knowledgeable terminology but rather how we treat everyone with the highest quality service. This means non-shaming, non-judgmental and to be fearless advocates in service to those especially marginalized trans youth who face discrimination when accessing employment which then forces them into the sex trade and the streets, left with very little options but huge risk and potential for abuse and exploitation.

In 2017 you were inducted into the Chicago LGBTQ Hall of Fame (congratulations!). Can you briefly share how that honor has impacted you, your family, and your work within the LGBTQ community?

I am proud to name that I have been inspired by movements for social change to fight and be able to impact the way LGBTQ people get treated. I was in high school when I first saw transphobia full front and center at class attendance time, when during roll call students laughed and bullied my classmate who asked to be called their preferred name after the teacher repeatedly called the student's name listed on the roster. The student was then asked to leave class after being denied that request. I remember asking for a bathroom pass to go check on her and found her crying in the hallway. I called her by her stated name and remained with her to make sure she was ok. I will never forget the feeling of righteous anger that overtook me. I knew deep inside how painful this treatment was.

I want a world where human rights are respected, and your name and identity can be a big part of that. And even more so when we have an epidemic of trans women of color being systematically murdered. So, for me this is an issue I take personal. I do not just have an affinity for the L and G of the rainbow spectrum. I identify as me. My mantra is I am who I am. I am here to defend all my LGBTQ+ peers and they are my family, they are who held me as a community. And to give back and show love I have been doing LGBTQ+ cross-issue community organizing for over 15 years and the good people of the Chicago Hall of fame noticed? That night our highly revered Latina trans queen Miss Kitty received a posthumous award, my mother a now retired domestic worker accompanied me in celebration with the Mayor and I was so thankful friends traveled near and far to attend. All with me to celebrate that I have been doing community LGBTQ organizing everywhere I go, for over 15 years.

Honestly, it is not easy for me to receive these types of awards; they make me think of the countless other people who deserve to be acknowledged and are not. But this award also served as a reminder that there is more work to be done and this award only fueled me to continue to be visible and fight for others to have the opportunity to also be themselves, and not be forced to hide their identities because society forces us into the shadows of the status quo. It was a proud moment for my life partner, chosen family, friends, community and not so easy for my parents. I also totally understand that when one person is recognized, that builds visibility, and creates opportunities for my community.

We know that you are a staunch advocate for immigrant and LGBTQ rights. What drives your activism and advocacy?

Immigration impacts many LGBTQ and I simply refer to the stats on this particularly complex yet simple to understand issue. Many of our home countries are still places where you may be killed for being LGBTQ. We know that many face persecutions for their relationships, for their gender identity expression and forming families. Many have come to this country by the skin of their teeth after acts of homophobia, transphobia, sexual violence, and systemic marginalization. They are the people that drive my activism and advocacy on immigration rights and LGBTQ communities seeking life saving refuge in the United States. Many of whom come from the poorest rungs of society, having been ostracized from the mainstream, getting by in underground street economies, facing issues of poverty and unemployment, lack of opportunities and impeding the possibility of experiencing functioning healthy lives. The pursuit of happiness and safety, wellbeing and belonging are key fundamental values of the immigration rights movement and this includes our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

In that same spirit, I have learned my activism from legends such as Dolores Huerta, Sylvia Rivera, Marsha Johnson, Angela Davis and local leaders like Julio Rodriguez, Kenny Martin-Ocasio, Rev. Nilsa Irizarry, Lois Bates, Alexis Martinez, Ginger Valdez, La Tony and Robert Castillo and countless more movement leaders.

Overall, my community drives me and inspires me to keep going every day. Even when I feel like the Pandemic is creating more and more issues to mitigate and resolve creatively, I rely on the fuel that I get from looking to youth and social change movements for lessons and inspiration and this includes the people who are in the "front lines" doing the work to improve the lives of youth, immigrants, those experiencing homelessness, and stop the injustice.

Fighting for social justice and against discrimination and racist systems of oppression- that is my motivator. How I find out what those injustices are is listening to people in the front knowing how people are being impacted is how we can change policies.

The thing that drives my advocacy is the mission to end poverty and it starts by understanding how systems of oppression work and learning to do the work to undo it. I know a better world is possible and I may not be here when it happens but like I say we have to take bite size pieces day by day because then it can add up to the systems change we all need and it's our own responsibility to start rooting it out now!

You have also dedicated years to working with young people...understanding the importance of role models; has there been any person that you admired or has inspired you in your dedication in supporting young people?

My strategic decision to focus on working with youth, in particular marginalized and vulnerable youth, youth impacted by trauma and living with the impact of that trauma, children and youth from families that could not provide because economic reasons did not allow them to have the means to afford a place to live, youth who ran away or who were kicked out of their home by parents for coming out as LGBTQ. Youth that counted on our systems to survive. Youth have been my mentors and teachers just as much as adults that I admire. They are the ones who through their lived experience and knowledge broke down the levels of violence and oppression, individual, interpersonal and systemic and they showed me exactly where the gaps in services existed. They are the ones I admire for their bravery and resilience and for demanding their rights be respected.

I do certainly have a person that has inspired me in my dedication to supporting young people and that is one of my long-time mentors Julio Rodriguez, who helped establish some of the first LGBTQ targeted youth services. I learned about the perseverance and consistency that is necessary to lead the work and that we owed it to the youth with diverse set of service-provision needs, in a holistic manner completely different from that provided to adults. Center on Halsted and Broadway Youth Center would never have existed without Julio's groundbreaking work in Chicago.

What is your advice to the next generation of the LGBTQ community and those who support efforts to advance equity, diversity, inclusion, and social justice?

My advice to the next generation of LGBTQ community would be to not be complacent how things are because regardless how much things improve, there will still be work that needs to be done. Be the champions of change. Until our world is a place where everyone could exist without fear and without shame our fight should not stop.

BONUS: Share a response to a question that you want to (or like to) respond to, but are not often asked.

Some insight I would like to share about my guiding principles.

I work from an anti-oppression framework and this means that the way I go about working in operations I think about equity in resources; linking human capital and infrastructure to deliver quality services.

I'm proud to work with a team that fought to provide support for immigrant and refugee families and others left out of federal stimulus funding. This aid has helped the undocumented with no insurance, just like those workers toiling in the fields that I saw growing up. We have also worked to lift emergency assistance efforts for prevention of homelessness, including connections to care and treatment for those carrying co-occurring diagnoses and those living with HIV/AIDS and supports such as our COVID response hotlines, like Call 4 Calm. Solutions-oriented problem solving and crisis mitigation plans must be developed intentionally to counter the ways these systems have made it impossible or tremendously hard to access benefits.

Our institutions should be systems meant to address gaps and address issues at the root. Using an anti-oppression framework and harm reduction practice has helped me determine how to tackle systemic issues and build capacity to increase supports to our customers.


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