Approaching a month into her new role as GALA North Texas’s Vice President, Pepa Paniagua has goals to give back to North Texas’s LGBTQ+ community. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance of North Texas is geared towards any and all LGBTQ+ people who live north of 635. As GALA’s new VP, Paniagua hopes to raise awareness of LGBTQ+ issues and provide much-needed resources in cities and areas where they are scarce.
“One of my frustrations is that there seems to be a lack of resources to LGBTQ+ people, especially in Collin County,” Paniagua says. “Usually the answer is ‘go to Dallas.’”
At the moment, GALA is focused on educating voters through the legislative session and preparing them for the upcoming election.
“We are actually starting our candidate questionnaires,” Paniagua says. “We reach out to candidates on both sides and put together a non-biased voter guide that lets everyone know the facts-of-the-facts of each candidate and their stances on the issues.”
Paniagua notes that there are no written laws that protect LGBTQ+ people from housing discrimination, and also no laws that protect LGBTQ+ youth in school. She also wants for public schools to make LGBTQ+ history part of their curriculums.
“There is not as much communication regarding our history,” Paniagua says. “There’s becoming a clear need for education on LGBTQ+ history, which I think will be a big step in protecting LGBTQ+ youth in schools.”
Paniagua also hopes to encourage younger people to get involved with GALA and vocalize issues important to them.
“Most of the previous leadership has been by people 40 and above,” Paniagua says, “there are a lot of young adults who need support and community. I would love for there to be more awareness of the organization. I would love to see the organization grow into a more supportive entity of LGBTQ+ life.”
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While GALA is a strictly 18+ program, they have a division called GALA Youth, which provides a network, safe space and sense of community for younger LGBTQ+ people.
“GALA Youth has their regular meetings,” Paniagua says. “They hold game nights, dinners and open discussions.”
Paniagua, who is a pastor, also works to cultivate acceptance of LGBTQ+ people in the church. She helps point families of LGBTQ+ people in the direction of programs like Rainbow Roundup and PFLAG (Parents Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.)
“Parents are allies every single day,” Paniagua says, adding that she wishes that she could tell her younger self “it gets better, it gets easier, and you’re not alone. It’s going to be okay.”
Paniagua is also aware that, unfortunately, not all families are accepting of their LGBTQ+ children, and therefore hopes for an LGBTQ+ community center in Collin County in the future.
GALA meets every third Thursday of the month for happy hour at Henry’s Tavern and they hold forums every quarter. In April, GALA will hold a volunteer session for those wanting to contribute to events like Dallas Pride.
This year, Dallas Pride will be held in Fair Park, moving from the strip on Cedar Springs Road & Oak Lawn Avenue. Straying from Dallas’s tradition of holding Pride in September, Dallas Pride will be held in June, in alignment with that of other large metropoles. Paniagua expressed mixed feelings in regard to the big changes coming to Dallas Pride this year.
“On the one hand, I’m like, ‘Hooray! That’s awesome,’ but my one concern is that it will take away business from Oak Lawn and Cedar Springs,” Paniagua says. “All of those organizations and business are faithfully supportive and run by the LGBTQ+ community. So on the one hand, it makes sense logistically. It will make it more accessible, but we will lose something in that.”
For more information on how to get involved with GALA, visit galanorthtexas.org.