Health care hero overcomes odds to serve LGBTQ+ Houstonians

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- In observation of LGBTQ+ History Month, ABC13 spoke with three BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) community leaders about their experiences as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender non-conforming and/or queer people. This is the third in a three-part series.

Elia Chino has worked for as long as can remember, starting in the fields of Michoacán, Mexico, never knowing her future would bring her to Houston.

The founder of Fundación Latinoamericana De Acción Social (FLAS), a non-profit focused on wellness and behavioral health, shared with ABC13 what her life was like growing up as an LGBTQ+ person in Mexico.

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Her family is a "campesino family" that worked in the fields. At 4 years old, Elia was helping with all the household chores and walking to the fields after her mother became ill.

"I remember that I always (knew) that I was different," said Chino, whose family was Christian. She said she understood even at a young age that anything other than heterosexuality was viewed as a sin by her family.

"In Mexico, there is a lot of 'machismo'... (Other parents would say) 'If I have a daughter or son that is gay, I will kill them,'" Chino said.

Chino remembers being a feminine child, but her parents would never mention anything about her sexual orientation: "Solo me decían, las personas que son homosexuales se van a ir al infierno. Esas personas van a ser quemadas en cazos de azufre."

"They just told me, 'people who are homosexual are going to go to hell,'" Chino said. "'Those people are going to be burned in pots of sulfur.'"

Chino said she loved going to school, and would sometimes wake up at 4 a.m. to take two buses just to get to her elementary school.

Her passion for education was supported by her parents, who told Chino "we will sacrifice everything we have so you can go to university." Her desire to grow, learn and help her family encouraged her decision to obtain a visa, allowing her to move to Tennessee with her oldest sibling.

In the U.S., Chino said she overcame barriers and language difficulties, some rocky personal economics, and ultimately being denied from the church because of her sexual orientation and gender identity.

In spite of bouts with depression, she persevered, fighting for herself and her goals. She's called Houston home now for nearly 35 years.

Chino said even in the midst of one of her biggest battles, a lymphatic cancer diagnosis in 2017, she never gave up on her dreams. After years of pain, chemo and radiation treatments, she said she wasn't afraid to die, only afraid of leaving the LGBTQ+ community without help and services.

"I live everyday like it is my last day," Chino said, "Especially because four years ago, I was dying from cancer."

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Since 1994, FLAS has fought to secure access to health care for Latinos, the LGBTQ+ community, virtually anyone in need. She said she hopes to expand services to more people in states outside of Texas.

Chino said despite her struggles and the struggles of others in her generation, she has high hopes for the crop of young leaders coming of age right now.

"Always have faith in God, always think positive, always be good to others and don't let anyone steal your dreams," Chino said.

This month, Chino was honored by Mayor Sylvester Turner with a 2021 Hispanic Hero Award, highlighting her achievements in community service.

You can learn more about FLAS's services on the FLAS Facebook page.
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