By Al Ballesteros

On August 16th, 2023, the Latino Equality Alliance celebrated the opening of its second community center, Mi SELA. Mi SELA, located at Florence and Flora Avenue in the City of Bell is an LGBTQ+ youth center that has opened in Southeast Los Angeles. The main goal of Mi SELA is to increase family and community acceptance of LGBTQ+ youth, among others.

Mi SELA will provide a drop in lounge and meeting space targeting youth seeking support and services. The program will offer personal development activities and computer stations, resource navigation and assistance with referrals to service providers. Organizers hope to develop programming for parents as well in the form of educational workshops and provide space for youth to come together to develop their own leadership skills and connect to one another.

Eddie Martinez is the Executive Director of the Latino Equality Alliance (LEA), a community based organization whose mission is to advocate for the safety, equity and wellness of the Latinx LGBTQ community. Martinez says the new youth center had been in the planning for more than a decade and represents an expansion of the LEA mission. LEA also has a space at Mi Centro LGBTQ Center in Boyle Heights in partnership with the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

The Latino Equality Alliance was founded as a response to California’s Proposition 8, which in 2008 saw voters across the state approve a proposed ban on same-sex marriage by a margin of 52%-48%. Of particular concern was the significant support for the proposition and counter to the rights of the gay community in the Southeast cities. To be sure, according to data from the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, among the eight cities which comprise Southeast Los Angeles, about 60% of the voters marked yes on Prop 8. The major cities in the area are Bell, Bell Gardens, Huntington Park, South Gate, Cudahy, Lynwood, and others. Overall, Los Angeles County was generally split in its support for the Proposition, leaning slightly towards yes.

The Prop 8 vote put light on the need to understand and address issues which led residents in Southeast Los Angeles, composed largely of Latinx populations to vote yes on the proposition to limit LGBTQ+ equality rights. Lack of information and education about same-sex relationships and LGBTQ+ people in general were pointed to as potential reasons for the overwhelming support against gay marriage in these areas. Religious beliefs, cultural stigma, lack of community resources and outlets and lack of education in the school districts are said to have contributed to sentiments in favor of the ban.

Proposition 8 was ultimately ruled unconstitutional in federal court and on June 28, 2013, the Ninth Circuit court’s rulings enabled the California government to resume conducting same-sex marriages. However, the work to educate communities certainly continues and the need to support the communities most vulnerable is a present concern, hence the creation of Mi Sela.

Martinez says, “it was essential to set up in neighborhoods that had a vote of more than 60% in the affirmative on Prop 8.” “LEA hosted community forums in communities such as El Monte, South Gate, Highland Park, Boyle Heights and Bell. After over 200 residents attended the forum at the Bell community center, it was evident there was a need for more community information and resources in the Latinx community.” “It soon became clear a center was needed in the Southeast cities.”

Adelante: What are the LGBTQ+ needs the center will seek to address?
Martinez: The center will address advocacy and provide referrals for community residents, with a focus on youth between the ages of 14-26. We anticipate dealing with mental health and substance use needs and will provide referrals for health services and other advocacy.

Adelante: Why is now a good time for this?
Martinez: Across the nation, there is so much rhetoric around issues of LGBTQ+ people and youth which is very negative. Examples such as, we, the LGBTQ community are trying to groom young kids to become trans or non-binary, which is false. We feel the schools should provide a safe place for our youth to learn about positive role models that represent them, support their social emotional well-being and that is what we are advocating for. It is so important to have LGBTQ+ history taught in school. We are advocating to make sure the schools in the nearby area are accountable to provide the resources and the affirming education for our LGBTQ+ youth.

Adelante: How does this get done from outside of the school districts?
Martinez: Working with the districts. LEA is a member of the Rainbow Education Coalition – Los Angeles, a coalition of LGBTQ organizations working together to advocate for queer and trans students. We advocate for policies to safe-guard LGBTQ+ youth and make school districts accountable to implement all these policies. We want to be assured these really trickle down to the K-12 schools. The way to do this is to make sure we have community oversight of these district policies. We can’t let our guard down. LEA partners with schools to educate administrators, support LGBTQ student groups, provide leadership development for youth leaders, and training opportunities for teachers.

While Mi SELA will address important needs of LGBTQ+ youth, the larger LGBTQ+ community needs are certainly present in the Southeast. At present, community members must travel to Hollywood, Long Beach and Boyle Heights for services. Martinez acknowledges this and is open to possibilities to address these needs as well down the road.

Eddie Martinez is an openly gay man and a current city councilmember of the City of Huntington Park, elected to a four-year term in March 2020. In 2021, he was elected by his peers to serve as Vice Mayor for the 2021-2022 term. In July 2022, he was elected by his peers to serve as Mayor for the 2022-2023 team. He was born and raised in Huntington Park where he attended State Street Elementary, Gage Middle School and graduated from Bell High School.

Adelante: What type of reception have you had as an Elected Official?
Martinez: Nothing but positive reactions and support. I grew up in Southeast Los Angeles and
went away to college for some time and worked in areas outside of the Southeast for a period of time. The issues of the Southeast are so important because the area has experienced a lot of hardship over years, especially during the recent Covid-19 pandemic. We are a community that has traditionally lacked sufficient resources, and this has made us vulnerable but we are resilient. I’m hoping our work contributes to improving the health status of LGBTQ+ youth and families of the southeast area.

Adelante: How can Mi SELA make a difference?
Martinez: Visibility and awareness. I feel when youth or the community see our center and they see LGBTQ+ folks present there, it helps them to understand there is a need and we are vibrant members of the community. Also just having resources in the area so residents don’t have to travel out of their community for services is critical. With traffic and the challenges people have getting to other areas of the county for help, these services will reduce those barriers.

Adelante: How can the community help your efforts?
Martinez: Volunteering at our events, getting the word out about our services, and making donations to the Latino Equality Alliance, LEA. That all will help.

The opening of Mi SELA was made possible through a grant awarded by the Los Angeles County Justice, Care and Opportunities Department, utilizing Los Angeles County’s Care First Community Investment (CFCI) funds. The center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., generally, but the hours of operation will be fluid depending on youth and community need.

For more information on LEA, visit