My Best Ally Is…
Artist Carlos Aponte Lends His Creative Talents to the Zero Homophobia/Zero Transphobia Campaigns
by Hank Trout

The United States—indeed, the world—has wrestled with the effects of homophobia and transphobia for centuries. We’ve been legislated against by governments, condemned to hell by religious leaders, laughed at by politicians, abandoned by our families and friends, ostracized from our communities by stigma, and too often attacked, beaten, bloodied, or even murdered by violent bigots. None of this is new.

Over the past four decades, those who oppose us have used HIV and AIDS as an excuse to intensify their homophobic and transphobic attacks, as evidenced by the increase in gay-bashing and other attacks on LGBTQ people in the 1980s and beyond. In recent years, those attacks have spiked again, particularly in communities of color, and especially brutally with the murder of transwomen in the U.S. and abroad.

Stepping up to combat this surge in homophobia and transphobia, particularly in Latino communities, the Latino Commission on AIDS (LCA) launched the Zero Homophobia and Zero Transphobia Campaigns in 2019. Leandro Rodriguez, MBA, the Vice President of Programs at LCA and Founder of the Oasis LGBTS Wellness Center in New York City, told A&U, “The Zero campaigns started in 2019 as a result of many structural barriers and attacks that our LGBTQIA+ faced. By 2019, we saw an increase in suicides, suicidal tendencies, and mental health needs in our LGBTQIA+ youth, due to bullying and harassment. We had a terrifying increase of almost fifty-plus attacks and deaths of transgender women of color in the U.S., including Puerto Rico. And all of this came after the terrible mass shooting at PULSE as we saw forty-nine of our own killed. [A]nd our LGBTQIA+ identity was completely erased from the 2020 census.”

He also cited the growing number of state legislatures eager to eradicate or criminalize the transgender experience and to embrace harmful “conversion therapy” policies.

“This is a national crisis,” he continued, “that must be addressed from all perspectives; socially, institutionally and governmentally.”

Research has shown that homophobia and transphobia create structural barriers to

Carlos Aponte. Photo by Alexi Lubomirski

receiving adequate, appropriate healthcare, especially for LGBTQ patients who are living with HIV. Even if one finds a culturally competent healthcare provider, which is especially difficult for Latino trans women and men, the effects of homophobia can keep one from seeking care. “If one feels shame of who they are (internalized homophobia) and feel guilty (internalized oppression) for practicing their sexuality,” Rodriguez said, “one can develop patterns of depression, fall into low self-esteem, and just not develop the honest and transparent relationship one should develop with their healthcare provider. In addition, if the healthcare institution is not culturally competent, responsive, and sensible, and doesn’t have clear guidelines and policies in place, members of the LGBTQ community can shut down waiting to access healthcare. For our Latino LGBTQIA+ this is intensified because they must navigate different cultural nuances, like language and processes. If these barriers are not addressed, as one internalizes homophobia, one can then be susceptible to risky behaviors that can jeopardize one’s health.”

Although homophobia and transphobia stem from multiple causes (outmoded gender roles, religious bigotry, etc.), “The root is fear,” Rodriguez told A&U. “Irrational fear that has been internalized and passed down from generation to generation. When you are Latino and LGBTQI+, oftentimes, one has to navigate multiple identities, and within that navigation it is difficult to identify a source of support and pillar that can help one navigate the paradigms that oftentimes perpetuate in our Latino culture.”

Finding that pillar of support—an ally—can be difficult, even in the most loving families. But an ally can have a big impact on the lives of LGBTQIA+ people. Research shows that those LGBTQIA+ members who have supportive families and communities have greater self-esteem and resilience and are at a lower risk of negative outcomes like depression, hopelessness, and substance abuse. They are also much less likely to engage in behaviors with a high risk of HIV transmission. The Zero Homophobia Campaign is an initiative to create awareness about the negative effects of homophobia in society, particularly in the Hispanic community. It aims to create discussion and action at different levels, such as schools, houses of worships, workplaces, healthcare settings, and most importantly, family.
The theme of this year’s Campaigns is “My Best Ally Is …” which will allow LGBTQIA+ community members to identify their best ally—that special person who empowers them to be the best version of themself. The weeklong series of events will gather activists and allies from across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, as well as from Chile and China, for discussions of the effect of homophobia on healthcare outcomes. Interested parties can visit websites listed below to find the complete agenda. On May 17 at 1:00 p.m., the campaign will kick off with a panel discussion and continue with more intimate conversations with key activists and allies. People are invited to share a picture of themselves with their chosen ally. Zero Transphobia’s week is slated for November 15–20, 2021.

To help spread the word, the folks behind the Zero Campaigns turned to noted artist, author, and fashion illustrator Carlos Aponte to design posters for use in the “My Best Ally Is…” campaign. An artist, designer, and author born in New York and raised in Puerto Rico, Aponte’s fashion illustrations have been featured in Laird Borelli’s “Fashion Illustration Next”, Bil Donovan’s “Advanced Fashion Drawing”, Tony Glenville’s “The New Icons of Fashion Illustration”, and Richard Kilroy’s “Menswear Illustration”. His gallery shows have included exhibits at the Brooklyn Library, Gallery Hanahou, the Society of Illustrators, and Three Square Studio, among others. His clients include The New Yorker, Coca-Cola, Target, the Washington Post, The New York Times, Elle, and Bergdorf. His first children book, A Season to Bee, was published in 2017 by Penguin. Carlos is currently a faculty member at the Fashion Institute of Technology. He lives in Jersey City with his partner, Christopher.
“Before I define myself as Puerto Rican, gay, mixed, artist, or anything that frames my sex, passions, or personality, I am a human being first”, said Carlos Aponte in a prepared statement. “As humans, we all have universal rights, and I’m an ally not only of the LGBTQIA+ but to every being on this planet who follows the path of love and acceptance.”

Aponte’s posters exemplify the artist’s signature use of bold, simplistic lines and just one or two colors to make powerful, bright, eye-catching images. He uses simple shapes in his visual storytelling, using tape him to create bold, abstract portraits, often of African-American or Latinx cultural figures. With “My best ally is…” emblazoned on each, the Zero Homophobia Campaign posters are meant to provoke conversations about finding or being an ally to the LGBTQ community. Noted Rodriguez: “We want to uplift those allies that have stood with us, for us, in our journeys. We believe that to eradicate homophobia and transphobia we need allies that can take the message where we can’t take it. It is from within that we can move to a world of acceptance and love.”

Despite the ongoing spike in homophobic and transphobic violence, Rodriguez sees some hope for LGBTQ youth, especially Latino LGBTQ youth. Despite cultural and religious strictures, and in spite of rampant toxic masculinity, “there are also spaces where Latino family have embraced diversity and are a great support system to our LGBTQIA+ folks. And that is because the thriving force in these families is not fear, but love. Our Zero Homophobia and Zero Transphobia campaigns aim to elicit from the individual an empowerment response to move the community and to advocate for policies that bring awareness, education and acceptance.”


To read more about the artist Carlos Aponte and his work, log on to: www.carlosaponteeditions.com.


To learn more about the Zero Homophobia and Zero Transphobia Campaigns and how to participate, log on to either www.hispanicnet.org or www.latinoaids.org.


Hank Trout interviewed Sister Roma for the May 2021 cover story.