Out100 honorees include SoCal leader tasked with preserving LGBTQ+ history

Christiane Cordero Image
Thursday, November 23, 2023
Out100 honorees include SoCal leader helping preserve LGBTQ+ history
Out100 honoree Tony Valenzuela is the Executive Director of One Institute, the longest continuously operating LGBTQ+ organization in the country.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Every year, Tony Valenzuela and the One Institute put on a month-long history lesson while making some history of their own.

Circa is the first and only LGBTQ+ histories festival in the country, organized by a group tasked with preserving it.

"One of our board members at One Institute often says a people without a history is a people without a future," said Valenzuela, the One Institute's Executive Director.

In November, Out Magazine and Out.com recognized Valenzuela as one of its Out100 honorees. It was his second time earning the distinction, the first being in 1997.

Today, the archives are 26 years deeper, with a new generation diving in.

Teachers nominate students for a four-month youth ambassador program, signed off by their parents.

They do archival research and present a project at the end of the semester.

"Boys, girls and transgender students who are part of the program learn a great deal in the process," said Valenzuela. "(They) learn about their histories that they didn't know, because it isn't taught in schools."

LGBTQ+ history in schools has become a nationwide topic.

From Florida's so-called 'Don't Say Gay' law that bans most instruction related to sexual orientation or gender identity.

To the violence outside of Glendale Unified School District in June, when its board recognized Pride month.

As someone who works in archives, Valenzuela has seen versions of this on the record, like a broken record.

"One example of this was in the 70s in California, there was what was called the Briggs Initiative," said Valenzuela.

Officially known as Proposition 6, the 1978 initiative tried to ban openly gay or lesbian teachers from working in California schools. The message from proponents focused on family.

2.8 million Californians voted yes. They did, however, fall in the minority. Prop 6 failed, though its rhetoric lingers today.

Valenzuela says one big difference today is in the support for LGBTQ+ rights.

"Many politicians are very unequivocally pro-gay," said Valenzuela. "That didn't used to happen 30 years ago. It'd be rare to find them, in fact."

Through the past 30 years, he finds the everyday work is still the most meaningful. Creating spaces where people feel seen, heard and etched into history.

"When people understand our humanity, we win," said Valenzuela. "And that's what our daily work here at One Institute is."