In celebration of Pride Month we asked our readers to share stories of their El Paso Pride heroes.
Readers shared stories of an individual who changed the El Paso insurance coverage for the LGBTQIA+ community; a staunch advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community at the Borderland Rainbow Center; and a school administrator who has worked tirelessly to fight to include LGBTQIA+ books on library shelves. Read on to learn about these heroes and how they have shaped El Paso and the lives of those around them.
Gustavo Reveles, 47, was recently appointed as Canutillo Independent School District’s director of communication and marketing. Reveles previously worked for El Paso Independent School District as the Community Engagement director. A former journalist, Reveles worked as a senior reporter at the El Paso Times, and later for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
“Gustavo Reveles is a remarkable human, committed to LGBTQ issues and a vanguard of the media/press world in El Paso. First, as a writer for the El Paso Times and then as a communications specialist for Canutillo ISD, then El Paso ISD, and now as Director of Communications and Marketing for CISD, Gustavo privileges the need for diversity alongside creating and championing opportunities for LGBTQ El Pasoans. Gustavo, an Outstanding Alumni for the Department of Communication at his alma mater, the University of Texas at El Paso, is a role model and advocate for a better, more inclusive El Paso. His efforts cross a variety of arenas and he is well regarded in the LGBTQ community for his vocal and engaged advocacy. Gustavo is a product of Riverside High School and despite leaving El Paso for a stint in Fort Worth, he returned to his beloved hometown to make a difference.”Richard Pineda, chair of UTEP’s Department of Communication
Isidro Torres, 25, is the executive director for NAMI El Paso, National Alliance on Mental Health. Torres has been with NAMI since 2015, and during his time there he has tried to remove the stigma of mental health in the El Paso community, and breaking barriers with the machismo culture. Through NAMI, Torres introduced the “Breaking the Silence” program in the region. The program focuses on introducing resources to middle schoolers and high schoolers that include warning signs, facts and statistics on how to seek help for themselves or a friend.
“Isidro is a strong mental health advocate for all! He has served for years in our community to break mental health stigma and bring free mental health education to El Paso. Isidro helps create safe spaces for individuals and families affected by mental health conditions to openly talk about things they are affected by. This brings hope into the hearts of many.”Yoli Armendariz, friend and co-worker
Wesley Lawrence, 25, is a member-at-large of the Borderland Rainbow Center and president of the El Paso Young Democrats. Lawrence is featured in the Borderland Rainbow Center’s card deck and coloring book as one of their featured heroes as well. He ran for El Paso City Council District 4 in 2020. Lawrence wanted to fight for people that have been disenfranchised and ensure that their voices were heard. Lawrence would like for a LGBTQIA+ commission to be created at the city and county level to ensure that the voices of the community can be heard.
“Wesley has been a staunch advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community. He serves as a board member for the Borderland Rainbow Center and was one of their LGBTQ Heroes in their card deck and coloring book.”El Paso Young Democrats
Marnie Rocha, 55, recently retired as the associate superintendent of the Canutillo Independent School District. Rocha was also a principal at Alderete Middle School where she implemented SOAR, a focus on sportsmanship, open-mindedness, academics and responsible actions. In November 2021, Canutillo ISD parents wanted the removal of an LGBTQIA+ book, “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe, from the Canutillo High School library. Rocha formed a book review committee and said, “I’m not here to defend the book, but neither am I here to burn a book. I’m here to see the due process happen for the book.” The book went through the district’s book review process, where it was read in its entirety and the committee voted 8-1 to keep it on the shelves.
“Ms. Rocha is a true advocate for public school students. She courageously stood up against public backlash for queer books in our public school libraries this year and ensured that the voices of our students were represented through her advocacy and presence. She is a great leader and a genuine person through whom many people have learned from. She also has helped to nurture the talented administrative and instructional staff during her tenure, and has left a legacy of leaders to continue her work.”Miguel Reveles, colleague and friend
Former Activist Doug Carnell (Jan. 20, 1948 – May 23, 1989)
Former U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. and El Paso community activist Doug Carnell brought humanity back to the dying process for those people with AIDS. Carnell’s work in the community opened up the doors for others. Carnell died of AIDS complications at the age of 41. His work helped open the Carnell House at 1501 Mescalero Drive in April 1990. It was the first hospice for AIDS patients in El Paso.
“I worked at a radio station in El Paso a bazillion years ago when AIDS first hit. It was difficult covering the stories. And Doug reached out and called me at the radio station one day and asked me how brave are you? And I said so-so. And he said, ‘How would you like to be the first station in the country to run public service announcements about condoms?’ This was a time when nobody was really talking about it. There were no public service announcements [about AIDS]. There really was nothing being said because it was described as that “gay disease.” He was the one who was the crowbar that got the conversation started. […]
“You didn’t talk about anything related to homosexuality. Doug helped break those barriers. And he did so in a way that was affirming non accusatory.
He was the one who would show up at city council meetings and would show up at Health Board meetings saying there’s a better way. You know, it’s not fair for these people who have contracted this disease to be treated like they’re carriers of the plague. Visitors weren’t allowed into the rooms in the hospital. I guess it was COVID, people were dying by themselves in the hospital.
Doug Carnell spoke up in an era when gay pride didn’t exist. He took on the public health department in the fight against AIDS when it was still a word whispered in hallways. He forced the city to address the then impending crisis, and urged leaders to treat those who contracted AIDS with love and compassion.”Cynthia Wise, former radio personality and friend
Former Author: Arturo Islas (May 24, 1938 – Feb. 15, 1991)
Former novelist and Stanford University English professor Arturo Islas was known for his work in the study and examination of Chicano and gay identity. Islas, a native El Pasoan, was known for his novel, “The Rain God,” and “Migrant Souls,” and for his collection of manuscripts, “The Islas Papers.”
According to the Texas State Historical Association Islas had many firsts. He was the first Mexican American valedictorian at El Paso High School, and the first Mexican American to earn a Ph.D. in 1971, from the Department of English at Stanford, where he later became the institution’s first Mexican American tenured professor.
The renowned author died at the age of 52 of AIDS complications. Stanford University established the Arturo Islas Jr. Prize in 1993.
“Arturo was an El Pasoan who graduated from El Paso High in the 1950s and became an acclaimed professor of English at Stanford University. He wrote several novels and stories, most based in El Paso. His iconic novel, “The Rain God,” which is semi-autobiographical explores the protagonist’s exploration of his homosexuality growing up in El Paso in the 50s in a very conservative family. He also explores the aspect of his father being the first Mexican-American police officer with the El Paso Police Department. Although I am not LGBTQIA+, but an ally, it was the first book that I read in college at UTEP that felt familiar due to El Paso being the site of the story and my first exposure to the struggles of a man discovering his sexuality. He left El Paso and achieved acclaim at Stanford.”Beto Mesta, fan
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the Canutillo ISD book reconsideration committee voted 8-1 to keep “Gender Queer” in Canutillo High School’s library.