A Man with a Mission – Manny Muro, Mr. Gay Pride OC8-Manny-Muro-CREDIT-gamma photography studios-2

By Christopher Jackson

Manny Muro has all the qualities one would expect from a leader in Orange County’s small, yet resilient, gay community: pride, respect, dignity and grace. He doesn’t need titles to invoke his political advocacy because he’s been fighting for gay rights since 2008 when he was arrested for protesting against the infamous Proposition 8. From there he continued forward, with political fundraising against Prop 8 and marching in Washington DC for “March at the Mall,” one of the largest gay rights marches in the US.

Manny’s fight for LGBTQ+ rights have continued over the years, but also focused on the underrepresented struggles of the undocumented queer people of color and Trans rights. Being the production director and managing general partner at Orange County’s premier weekly gay event WTF Fridays has allowed Manny the opportunity to organize several fundraisers for various groups such as De Colores Queer OC, TEA (Transgeneros En Accion), Somos, Orange County Immigrant Youth United (formerly OC Dream Team) and Radar OC, an organization dedicated to HIV testing and information outreach.

Manny’s vision extends beyond that of the gay community, he has also played the role of Team Captain for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night Walk held at Angel Stadium every year, since 2012. In that time he has raised over ten thousand dollars for the organization which helps research to end blood cancers—a cause very near to his heart. He has also been known to open his home for awareness events like Earth Day, which was supported in attendance with local elected officials such as council-member Doug Chaffee from the City of Fullerton and Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk.

Yes, all of this was before becoming Mr. Gay Pride OC last August. GED Magazine sat down with Manny recently to chat a bit about what has been a continuation of his passion and dedication to community activism and outreach.

7-IMG_4565GED: Congratulations on having won the title of Mr. Gay Pride OC last year. Being that the contest is based on fundraising, you probably had a leg up on the competition. Were you confident during the process of vying for the title that you indeed would be selected as the winner of the contest?

Manny Muro:  Thank you so much, I’m very proud to be able to represent the Orange County Gay community, but for me it wasn’t about the competition, it was about helping and inspiring my fellow contestants to each do our part in helping our community. I was confident in myself but competing for the crown forced me to be better. For me, it wasn’t about competing with others; it was about competing with me.

GED: You have been involved within the community for many years before choosing to run for Mr. Gay Pride OC.  Was there something compelling that drove you to decide that the time was right to run for the title?

MM: For me, choosing to compete for Mr. Gay Pride was about putting the causes I cared for in the spotlight. I think people who shine from within don’t need the spotlight. But my dear friend and predecessor as Mr. Gay Pride, Angel Bonilla, really inspired and motivated me to go for it. I felt that with the platform the competition offered, I could do so much more within my community. I felt confident in myself and just decided to go for it.

GED: After winning the title, with all the background and experience you had developed over the years did you have a set plan on how you would best use all of your accomplished experience to be further helpful to the community as a whole with this elevated voice and an obviously larger audience?

MM: After winning the title I really wanted to be a voice for the Latino Gay community. The gay community in Orange County is so large and not homogenous. I feel that gay people of color can often find themselves as a marginalized double minority: never fully embraced or understood by mainstream LGBTQ communities, nor accepted by their own families due to cultural traditions. Many people including myself have experienced racism from within the gay community where racial stereotypes also merge with gender stereotypes. I wanted to be a voice for everyone and push for more inclusion for the Latin LGBTQ community at our annual gay pride festivities.

2-IMG_3711GED: As one who has played a vital role in the ever growing success of the most popular and long running social events in OC, WTF Fridays. How has your role with the WTF Team allowed you to connect with LGBTQ youth to help keep them grounded?

MM: WTF Events was created to provide a fun, safe space for the Orange County LGBTQ community. It gives people a venue to be themselves without fear, an opportunity for everyone to have a great time with friends, and a platform for our local performers by showcasing their talent and creativity. I love engaging with the youth at WTF events because for some of them this is their first gay club. Several of them have told me that coming to WTF allowed them to be more comfortable with themselves, giving them an opportunity to met their partners and friends, and have fun without anyone judging them for being themselves. Having this safe and fun environment for the youth makes my job at WTF rewarding but critical to push for more safe and inclusive spaces. In the age of gay social media platforms, I love seeing people connect at a gay club and not behind a screen.

GED: You came on board with Radar, a program of AIDS Services Foundation Orange County as an HIV Counselor late last year. Did they see the enormous value in your obvious ability to connect with the socially active youth that they wish to reach out to and keep informed and solicit your talents and experience?  Or was this your approaching them to offer your vast talents to their accredited efforts?

5-IMG_6447MM: Before I started working at Radar I was a member of their Community Advisory Board and hosted outreach and testing events at WTF Fridays. I really admire the work they do and recognize they are at the forefront of fighting HIV in Orange County. Being Mr. Gay Pride really inspired me to do more and when the opportunity was presented I reached out and applied for a position. The reality is that HIV affects Gay/Bi Latino men in Orange County at a much higher rate. I wanted to be a part of the fight, knowing your HIV status creates stronger communities. Promoting HIV testing empowers individuals to take control of their sexual health. I needed to be a part of building a stronger and healthier Latin gay and bi community.

GED: How do you keep a healthy balance between wishing to be helpful to others while also affording time for yourself to enjoy good times with your partner, family and friends?

3-IMG_7149MM:  I’ve been in a relationship with my husband Diego for 9 going on 10 years. We love each other very much and no matter how busy we are we make our relationship a priority. We always make time for important things in our lives, we thrive on busy schedules but we include each other in building a life together. In addition to trust and communication, supporting each other in our career choices, and motivating each other to succeed are very important as well. Our yearly vacations also help revitalize our relationship: they help us stay active, create fond memories, and bring adventure into our lives.

GED: Lastly what advice would you give to the candidates and ultimate winner vying to become this year’s Mr. Gay Pride OC?

MM: My advice would be have fun, stay humble, be yourself, and most importantly think about the community you are serving. Competition is great, but collaboration is better.

6-IMG_5957GED: Best of luck to you and heartfelt thanks from the community at large for all you have already done.  Thanks Manny!

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