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Vicente Martinez knows the challenges he faces as a male ally in the fight for reproductive rights in the Rio Grande Valley, a region of Texas plagued by limited resources and immersed in machismo culture. Still, he is committed to the fight for access. His experience growing up as a queer man in Brownsville inspired him to seek out ways to inform and educate his fellow community members on stigmatized issues, such as sex, abortion, and mental health.

“We live in a culture that doesn’t like to talk about issues that impact women and the LGBTQ community,” Martinez said. “We don’t like change and we don’t like to be judged, but there is too much at stake to not act.”

At last month’s Power of Pink, Planned Parenthood’s largest ever grassroots training, Martinez found himself connecting with like-minded young people from across the US on how to address inequities in their communities. He also discovered a sense of belonging when attending a caucus meeting for LGBTQ people of color.

Photo courtesy of Vicente Martinez

“It was the first time I was in a place with people who were just like me, and I didn’t feel judged,” Martinez said. “We talked about how we deal with stress, how we heal ourselves and what support we need in order to achieve our goals. It was a beautiful space where we celebrated each other.”

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It was only a year ago that Martinez, a first-generation college student, became involved with Planned Parenthood while at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Since then, he has actively volunteered to provide information about Planned Parenthood health services at events and has hosted cafecitos to create a safe space for community members to discuss reproductive health.

The importance of Martinez’s efforts in the Valley cannot be overstated. A 2014 report by the Center for Reproductive Rights and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health detailed the harm Texas’ recent policies have inflicted on women in the region. Since 2011, “28 percent of state-funded family planning clinics in the Valley have closed entirely, and many more have reduced services while raising fees,” according to the report. Women in the Valley are denied fundamental reproductive rights, the report concluded.

Photo courtesy of Vicente Martinez

As a 22-year-old queer man from a low-income family, Martinez identifies with other marginalized people in the Valley, including women who are often overlooked and faced with limited health care options. He wants to help mobilize people locally, especially in light of the ongoing attacks on women, the LGBTQ community, and immigrants in the Texas legislature and by the Trump administration.

“Some people who are greatly affected by laws stay quiet because they feel like they don’t have a voice,” Martinez said. “I’ve spoken with different groups of people and many aren’t aware of the things happening at the Capitol or in the federal government.”

At Power of Pink, Martinez learned about grassroots organizing, Latinx organizing, engaging communities of color and economic justice. Now that he is back in Brownsville, he looks forward to applying his new knowledge to grow outreach efforts. One of the key takeaways for the young activist was to keep inclusiveness top of mind.

“It is important for us to have an open door and account for everyone if we want to create a better future for ourselves and generations to come,” Martinez said.

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He hopes to hold sex education loterias to discuss sexual health, contraception, and consent in a fun and engaging way. Martinez also wants to strategize with other RGV activists on how to keep community members informed about legislative activity on the state and federal level— and what actions people can take.

“Don’t be afraid and don’t feel like you need to know everything before you become involved in a cause,” Martinez said. “We have to start somewhere, and wanting to get involved is the first step.”

With the Trump administration’s recently proposed domestic “gag rule” and the impending nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Martinez understands he has his work cut out for him as a reproductive health advocate. He encourages other young activists to get involved in a cause close to their hearts and not be intimidated to learn as they go.

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This post was published under Neta’s “Community Voices,” a space for community members of the Rio Grande Valley to publish stories, opinions, information, and ideas. Posts in this section solely reflect the views of the authors. To read more from Community Voices, click here.

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