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Raul Ureña Becomes First Openly Transgender Mayor of a California Border City

-Editorial

Two Years after being elected to the Calexico City Council, Raul Ureña, 25, was appointed to serve as Mayor. During the March 1 meeting, the council voted to change the Mayoral rotation to February in which the majority of the council selected Ureña to replace then-incumbent, Javier Moreno. 

Ureña’s election marks a first in the city’s history. Because not only did he become the youngest Mayor in the city but he will be the first-ever openly transgender elected official to preside over the municipal meetings. 

By a vote of 4-1, Raul Ureña was elected Mayor of Calexico, this symbolized a shift in the political balance of the city that has been spearheaded by the new mayor.

However, not everyone in Calexico was in a celebratory mood to celebrate.

On the contrary, several residents were extremely unhappy with the change of the Mayoral annual rotation from July to Feb. or Ureña’s appointment arguing that another councilman should have been elected since he was next in line to be Mayor last year. After all, Calexico has never been exempted from political drama. 

But being an openly transgender elected official came with a price. Not even 24 hours after his appointment there were pictures of Ureña in a black dress circulating on social media. Those pictures were taken from Ureña’s Facebook page and now they were shared by many people who mocked him and criticized the image he was going to portray representing the city.

His political detractors had comments such as:

“How Gross!”

“Is that for real!?”

“This must be a joke”

“Only in Calexico”

“I don’t care about his sexual preference but he should keep it to himself”

Calexico resident Diana Silva admitted to being uncomfortable with the image Ureña is portraying but she is also not happy with his work in the city council.

“I respect his private life but I don’t think people here are open-minded about that. There is still a lot of discrimination going on,” Silva said.

Ureña is aware of the comments but said he doesn’t care about those that talk bad about him. 

“Imagine if I told your dad ‘hey, I know you are a man but keep it to yourself’. Honestly, it is very cowardly because all of those people that are making these criticisms have me blocked on their social media so I can’t defend myself. It doesn’t bother me because I’m not invited to the conversation,” Ureña shared. 

While he says that it doesn’t affect him he is conscious that his family might get stressed by some of the comments made. 

“The threat is real. This has been a long time coming. Just by being an LGBT person in the political scene, you have people that follow you,” Ureña shared.  He said he knows how to identify threats and protect himself. 

“They make these threats so that you are not yourself. So are you going to live a life being cornered and live a life that is not yourself just out of fear or are you going to be smart and calculating? If I don’t stand up here things are not going to be safer for me or other people,” he said.

When he first came out to his parents about his sexual preference at age 17, Ureña’s parents told him to keep it to himself but he knew that he needed to be out there to live safely. 

“My parents wanted me to keep it to myself because they were worried about my safety,” he added. “My dad was not very happy with me being public about my sexual orientation so I decided to leave and go to school. Leaving healed a lot of things over time. Sometimes when you love someone and you’re not in a good place distance can fix things and put everything right again,” Ureña said. 

After being away to attend the University of California Santa Cruz where he graduated as an economist, he came back to the Imperial Valley and participated in several social justice organizations and other advocacy groups. In 2020, he entered the race for a Two-Year term position at the Calexico City Council and won a landslide victory over the incumbent. He is now serving a full four-year term.

Despite just being young age, Ureña has been active in local politics since he was in high school. One of his first public appearances was going before the Calexico School Board meetings to question its trustees about their performance during a time when the district was in danger of being taken over by the state. He later started speaking about issues that affected students and their educational curriculum. Little by little he found his voice in politics. 

Despite being attacked by some of his classmates in high school, Ureña had friends and teachers defending him when needed something that he is thankful for. 

The Imperial Valley LGBT Resource Center guides, advocates, and provides support for many different at-risk groups and populations through drug abuse education, HIV testing and counseling, individual and family counseling, and anger.

Imperial Valley has supported groups that help LGBT people can rely upon. 

Rosa Diaz, founder, and Chief Executive Officer of the Imperial Valley LGBT Center said they are open to anyone that needs support and counseling. 

“In the support groups, we talk about safety and looking at your surroundings. We tell the youth that if they’re being bullied because of who they are we will talk to the school and the counselor and we will go with them. We are here to stand behind you and to support you and be your voice,” Diaz said. 

Ureña is a follower of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, considered the Patroness of Mexico and the Continental Americas. He reconnected with her thanks to an indigenous friend and started learning about where she comes from. He is now proudly a Guadalupano.

Mayor Ureña was elected for a two-year term at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and re-elected in 2022 along with another young progressive candidate that ran with him.  During his swearing-in ceremony, Ureña attended the meeting in a dress showing everyone that he will not hide who he is. 

Those that are familiar with or lived in the city of Calexico, California in Imperial County, all agree it is the most intense political town. The citizens are known to passionately debate city issues and seldom hold anything back. 

“This community is hungry for public transportation; people here are not afraid to say that we need to help the homeless population because it gives people a chance to better themselves and bring more business opportunities. In regards to homophobia, I’ll deal with it when someone has the bravery to say it to my face. Nobody has dared to confront me. I’m here to help them understand and build consensus.”

 

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