Journey Week Highlight: Roland Palencia to Screen Groundbreaking Documentary UNIDAD: Gay and Lesbian Latinos Unidos

As part of Pacifica’s Journey week, an immersive week of learning and connecting at Pacifica Graduate Institute to be held September 27-October 1, Roland Palencia, documentarian and filmmaker, will be a featured presenter, screening the groundbreaking, PBS co-produced documentary film UNIDAD: Gay and Lesbian Latinos Unidos and discussing his longtime activism and advocacy within the Latino/a and LGBTQ+ community.

In the early eighties, Roland was a recent immigrant to the United States and became involved in MECHA (Movimiento Estudiantial Chicano de Aztlan), the Chicano/Mexican American UCLA student group, and began looking for support at the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center in Los Angeles. There he joined a support group for Spanish-speaking gay men led by Jose Ramirez, the founder of Gay and Lesbian Latinos Unidos (GLLU) in 1981. As Roland says, “Jose was incredibly passionate, committed, and super bright; and he made this group happen. He began to use a megaphone to speak on the behalf of a community that had not been organized up to that point. He introduced all of us to this concept of not having to compromise any part of us, that you can participate in society whole and complete without leaving any part of your Being behind, and instead engage your full humanity. He made us feel that we mattered.”

Roland was approached by two LGBTQ+ Latino filmmakers, Gregorio Davila and Mario Novoa (Producer), who asked him if they could tell the story of GLLU and the effect of AIDs on the LGBTQ+ Latino/a community. Although Roland was hesitant at first, saying that “maybe it was my own internalized oppression, but I didn’t think that our story mattered; let alone that we had made history in the 1980s. But all stories matter. Story telling is such a critical part of being human,” he fundraised $80,000 to help create a documentary that is being broadcast on PBS for the next three years, insuring that this crucial part of LGBTQ+ history is both celebrated and preserved.

As for Roland, he continues to fundraise for the arts and hopes this film will inspire people to make positive changes in society. “The film may show them that they don’t have to live under unwanted circumstances, that we can create change if we get together and organize. Namely, the future does not belong to those who speak the loudest, the future will belong to those who speak differently. And we were speaking differently.”

To join us for the screening of UNIDAD: Gay and Lesbian Latinos Unidos, and connect with Roland Palencia, as well as the other nationally recognized leaders, scholars, and authors, please join us for Journey Week, September 27, 2023-October 1, 2023


Angela Borda is a writer for Pacifica Graduate Institute, as well as the editor of the Santa Barbara Literary Journal. Her work has been published in Food & Home, Peregrine, Hurricanes & Swan Songs, Delirium Corridor, Still Arts Quarterly, Danse Macabre, and is forthcoming in The Tertiary Lodger and Running Wild Anthology of Stories, Vol. 5.

Roland Palencia, MA, is a Professor at California State University Northridge (CSUN). He is the former Community Benefits Director and corporate trainer at L.A. Care Health Plan. He is the former Executive Director of Clinica Monseñor Oscar A. Romero and Equality California, and the former multi-County Regional Director at The California Endowment, and Chief of Operations and Vice-President at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. He was honored as a “Local Hero” by KCET/SoCal, a PBS affiliate. He has been featured in a number of books and publications such as Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians” by Stuart Timmons and Lilian Faderman (2006). Central Americans in Los Angeles” by Rosamaria Segura (2010); and The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle” by Lilian Faderman (2015).