CHICAGO (WLS) -- One local man started a mission more than 30 years ago, during the AIDS epidemic, to help Chicago's Hispanic gay community, and this unsung hero is still making a big difference in Chicago's LGBTQ+ community.
Julio Rodriguez and a small group of friends created ALMA in 1989, 33 years ago. ALMA stands for the Association of Latinos, Latinas and Latinx Motivating Action.
"Our primary goal is to advocate on behalf of LGBTQ Latinx communities whether here in Chicago or beyond," he said. "And we look at issues such as immigration, human rights, access to better health care, affordable housing, and all of the kinds of things everyone should have opportunities to get."
ALMA does not have a physical office but at The Center on Halsted, Rodriguez discussed his ongoing fight for the rights of those who may be left behind.
"Even now with immigration being what it is, a lot of trans people who get picked up and they identify as women get put in with men, many of them are assaulted, many of them suffer all kinds of humiliation just because again there's no one really advocating for them in the ways that they need," Rodriguez said.
The downside to a lack of advocacy is something Rodriguez saw firsthand in the 1980s, when he watched friends die of AIDS.
"I remember he actually got very sick, because he didn't have health insurance they moved him from a hospital," he recalled. "But they literally put him in a room, and had him on an IV and literally the whole room was dark and we went into the room and they were basically just letting him die there."
That man lived but many others did not. More than 30 people he knew died of AIDS. Many without healthcare would simply disappear, he said.
"It was hard, there was so much... I'm getting emotional. I didn't want to get emotional," Rodriguez said. "Then I started ALMA; then I really saw it. For me, one, just the fact that we have the recognition and there is such a thing as a LGBTQ month, you know, and that we now we realize there's actually a history behind us, we've been here since the beginning of time, just is validating. Especially imagine a young person in a small rural town in Illinois who also happens to be Latinx...it gives them that little bit of hope, that things are going to get better."
Rodriguez said his group's overall goal is to help people see that there is an entire community of Latinx people also in the LGBTQ community.