On November 30, PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) Las Cruces hosted its 23rd annual banquet at Hotel Encanto de Las Cruces. PFLAG is an organization that works with community members to educate, advocate, and provide support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in the community.

Adri Perez and Alan Dicker receiving the 2018 Merlyn Risser Award for Service to the LGBTQ Community on behalf of the Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee in El Paso.

Every year, the PFLAG fundraiser extends an invitation to all of the gay/straight alliances from all LCPS high schools. This year, eight students from four different high schools were represented at the PFLAG banquet. Ryan Steinmetz, the chapter president for PFLAG Las Cruces, said the organization invites and sponsors a table for those students to show them how much support is available in their very own community.

PFLAG President Ryan Steinmetz, welcoming people to this year’s theme, “Building Bridges.”

PFLAG is the United States’ first and largest organization uniting families and allies with people who are LGBTQ+. PFLAG envisions a world where diversity is celebrated and all people are respected, valued, and affirmed inclusive of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. PFLAG has worked to change attitudes and create policies and laws that achieve full equality for people who are LGBTQ+.

LCPS Superintendent Greg Ewing also attended this year’s banquet at the invitation of School Board Member Maria Flores, as did a number of other elected officials at the state and local levels.

“We genuinely appreciate the invitation extended to the students of the gay/straight alliances in our high schools,” Ewing said. “It’s so important for them to understand the resources available to them. This event provides an opportunity to network and develop a community of support.”

2018 Susan C. Brown Scholarship winners. From far left. PFLAG President, Ryan Steinmetz, PFLAG Secretary, Dr. Tracie Hitter, Scholarship recipients Toby Soderberg and Ricardo Pacheco.

The theme of this year’s fundraising banquet was “building bridges.” The idea was to continue to connect LGBTQ+ individuals to services within the community. PFLAG recently started the Rainbow Refugee Project, after collaborating with the Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee in El Paso, Texas, with the help of NM Comunidades en Acción y de Fé (CaFé), a local advocacy group for migrants.

The Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee reached out to PFLAG to help house and sponsor LGBTQ+ couples who were detained in the Otero County Processing Center while awaiting their asylum hearings. According to Steinmetz, after receiving approval from his board and support from Peace Lutheran Church, Holy Family Catholic Community, First Christian Church and the Border Servant Corps, the migrant couples were able to temporarily stay at his home. Other LGBTQ+ migrants seeking asylum were connected with local services during their time in Las Cruces.

“In El Paso, there is a 94 percent denial rate for asylum cases,” Steinmetz said. “It’s been really difficult to keep them here in the sector if they want to have a chance to win their asylum case. Other places, like New York City or San Francisco, for example, might have a 75 percent approval rate. So, there is a great disparity for asylum-seekers here in the border region. I think it has to do with the amount of people that end up coming to the El Paso Sector seeking asylum. There is just an incredible amount of people that are seeking asylum, and they’re all bottle-necking in the El Paso Sector.”

The money raised from the annual banquet is used to provide scholarships to students who attend local institutes of higher education, and also to carry out the organizations mission of advocacy and education.

— Samantha Lewis, LCPS Public Relations Coordinator, 575-527-5946, slewis@lcps.net