Leslie Rodriguez felt nervous when she saw the blank ballot, but she said a friend had already explained what she had to do, so she carefully filled in all the blanks and voted early in Orlando, Florida.
It was the first time for Rodriguez, who just turned 18 and wants to study to become an EKG technician. She is a gay person living in Florida, and politics are often present in her life.
“It's important to go out and vote, because sometimes I feel that they want to take away our rights and our only tool is to participate. In elections you can remove radical people who should not be in political office,” she said.
Rodriguez was one of several Hispanic voters and activists who spoke to Noticias Telemundo about their mobilization as voters or organizers against recent legislation they see as anti-LGBTQ.
In March, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was re-elected Tuesday night and who has been mentioned as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2024, signed the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which restricts teachers’ discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools.
In October, Republicans in Congress introduced a bill that seeks to restrict developing or funding programs that address sexual orientation issues for children under 10, a proposal much like the law DeSantis signed.
And on Friday, Florida medical officials, at the urging of DeSantis, approved a rule that will bar transgender children in Florida from receiving hormones or undergoing operations to treat gender dysphoria.
“What is happening at the political level shows us that the advances we have made are not guaranteed. We have already seen what the Supreme Court did against access to abortion, and they want to review same-sex marriage," said Mayra Salazar Hidalgo, the deputy director of the National LGBTQ Task Force. "In this country it is still legal to discriminate gay people in certain states, and that can get worse with this wave of anti-LGBTQ laws. That is why we are committed to strengthening the LGBTQ vote, which is a bloc that has already demonstrated its electoral power."
According to a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA, about 9 million LGBTQ adults were registered to vote in the 2020 election, 22% of them Latino.
A study released this year by the Human Rights Campaign and Bowling Green State University found that by 2030 about 1 in 7 voters will be LGBTQ and that turnout is expected to grow to nearly 1 in 5 by 2040,
According to research by the Center for American Progress, nearly 400 LGBTQ-focused bills were introduced across the country last year, and this year, state legislatures are considering 300 proposals that experts say are anti-LGBTQ.
Experts estimate that gay people aren’t fully protected from discrimination in 29 states. The bills would limit trans youths’ participation in sporting events, restrict medical care and access to toilets and complicate legal identification processes, among other impacts.
In addition, education officials at the state level have banned books about gay and trans experiences, removed LGBTQ-themed banners and ordered the dissolution of gay-straight alliance clubs.
In some cases, the argument is that LGBTQ issues are very political, so they shouldn’t be discussed in schools. But for Jorge Gutiérrez, a DACA recipient who came to the U.S. at age 10, discussing the rights of LGBTQ people is fundamental.
Gutierrez, part of Familia: TQLM, an organization advocating for trans and queer rights, does organizing work across the country. In his experience, the attacks on minorities and the LGBTQ community have intensified over the years.
"Every day they are more radical and explicit. I say that it is very important that our people go out to vote, so that they listen to us,” said Gutiérrez, who was born in Nayarit, Mexico, and has lived in Los Angeles since he was a child.
Latino communities were targeted with anti-LGBTQ and anti-transgender messages in Spanish ahead of the midterm elections.
“In these elections, many have tried to divide the Hispanic community and turn it against LGBTQ people. We have seen that in some states where they broadcast radio ads in Spanish that are anti-trans. The reality is that they are against our values," said José Muñoz, the deputy director of communications for United We Dream, an immigrant rights organization.
Andrea Montanez, a Colombian American who is transgender, works at Hope Community Center, a Central Florida organization that focuses on empowering immigrant communities. She said the recent political changes in the U.S. make her uneasy.
“You feel like we’ve gone back to the time of the Inquisition. It’s as if they wanted to put us on the stake and burn us,” she said.
Montanez said education can be vital to help LGBTQ people participate more actively in elections. Her organization and other groups worked on a training program with election officials in Orange County, Florida.
“We managed to teach the officers that one can arrive at the voting booth with an identification that has the name that I no longer use, because I have not been able to change it, but they must respect our identity beyond the photo or the name that appears on the document. They have to look at physical features and respect your gender identity,” she said.
Despite the recent measures, LGBTQ Americans are on the ballot in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. One of them is Robert Garcia, 36, a Democrat who is the mayor of Long Beach, California, and is running for Congress.
His parents immigrated from Peru when he was 5 years old, and his political career is often cited as a success story.
"Hispanics are a community that loves our families, and that includes trans and LGBTQ people, but we must understand that if the Republicans win more seats in Congress, they will have more power to take away rights from women and gay people," Garcia said. "And that is not what we want for this great country that must always go forward."