Intersecting identities

Area activist challenges notions of privilege

By Desiree Cooper

Rosemary Linares is a bubbly 29-year-old with a master's degree from New York University, a supportive husband and an adorable stepson. From the outside, it looks like she has it all--including what she calls "heterosexual privilege."

"I can share in my husband's benefits, I can determine his medical treatment if necessary," she said. "I can be accepted in circles as an 'ordinary' wife and mother."

What is not so obvious is that Linares is a bisexual Latina. "I'm used to straddling identities," said Linares, president of Cross Movement Social Justice Consulting, L3C in Ann Arbor. "I identify as Latina because I'm half Cuban, but my heritage is not obvious when you see me. I identify as queer and bi-sexual, but I'm in a heterosexual marriage. I live between identities."

Rebel with a cause

As a teenager growing up in Saline, Michigan - just outside of Ann Arbor - Linares felt like a fish out of water.

"Saline is conservative, middle class, white and heterosexual," said Linares. "The proximity to Ann Arbor made it livable, but I never felt like I fit in."

Even before she came out to her family at age 18, she was a vocal ally of the LGBTQ community. In her junior year of high school, she fought for the right to do a presentation about LGBTQ civil rights in her social studies class - a fight that she took all the way to the Superintendent of Saline Area Schools. After winning that battle, she started the first Gay Straight Alliance in her school (the staff sponsor for the alliance was threatened and had her classroom vandalized). Her efforts garnered her the $10,000 national Colin Higgins Courage Award in 2001. The award was founded in 2000 to recognize LGBTQ youth activists who have endured overwhelming hostility and hate, while conducting themselves with grace.

Linares's coming out was coupled with her growth as an activist. She first told her mother that she was bisexual after attending a Leadership Training Institute sponsored by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network in 2000. "I had already been an activist for so long, it was really a non-event," said Linares.

After high school, she attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where travel was a part of the cooperative education program. Using her award money from the Colin Higgins Foundation, Linares went to Miami, where she helped people with immigration and conducted HIV education; to Quito, Ecuador where she worked with children who lived on the streets; to Havana to study; and to Guadalajara, Mexico where she taught English.

After graduation, "the synchronistic unfolding of the universe led me to the Arcus Foundation in New York City, to help the LGBT social justice fund," she said. "I got to see the philanthropic LGBTQ movement nationally and internationally."

Her broad experience has helped her to accept her intersecting identities. "I'm a person of color who has white privilege," said Linares, who serves on the board of Detroit Latin@s. "I'm a bisexual woman with heterosexual privilege. When you have that kind of privilege, it's important to explore your feelings around it. Do you feel guilty or powerful? Having explored my own privilege, I've come to the social justice movement with humility and self-awareness."

This time, it's personal

After earning a masters' degree in public and nonprofit management from New York University, Linares was lured back to the Ann Arbor area by her longtime boyfriend, Arnulfo Rivera. The couple married in 2010, the same year that she founded Cross Movement Social Justice Consulting to advance social justice by increasing the capacity of nonprofit organizations and building alliances across social movements.

Now she finds herself coming full circle, advocating for her 7-year-old stepson, who Linares describes as "a diva who has a drag persona named 'Kalisha Shay.'"

"I love seeing the joy and happiness in his face when he plays with Barbies or does a performance to Alicia Keys, as well as when he plays with Leggos and trucks," said Linares. "But I also see him self-censoring when he senses that he won't be accepted. I'm saddened by that."

She can't help but think that not enough progress has been made to guarantee LGBTQ rights for a new generation.

"Not enough policies have changed to protect the LGBT community," she said, referring to the failure of the State of Michigan to protect LGBTQ youth from bullying, LGBTQ workers from discrimination and to provide same-sex couples health benefits. "Some of the policies make it feel like things are regressing."

But the continuing challenges have only bolstered her determination to break down barriers for marginalized communities. Last year, she joined the board of Detroit Latin@s, a community based group formed in 2008 to bring greater influence and visibility to the Latino/a LGBT and straight allied community.

"Many in the Latino LGBTQ community feel isolated by language," said Linares, who has been working with board members to provide inclusivity training for a Latino-based community organization. "We do partner with Affirmations and other groups, but there are issues specific to the Latino community. It's not just about the right to marry when you're in a same-sex relationship with someone who is undocumented."

In many ways, her work with Detroit's Latino community reaches back to her college days when she worked in Miami helping people with their immigration status and providing HIV education.

"The motto for my alma mater Antioch College is 'Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity,'" she said. "For me, fighting for social change is a lifetime commitment."

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