The year 2014 was a busy one for Jose Ernesto Madrid Beltran, the 2015 Jennifer Beegle Award winner. And arguably the hallmark moment for the 19-year-old was one summer night at the Jupiter Hotel on East Burnside Street when he stood before a crowd of peers, friends and mentors to share a closely guarded truth about himself.
The event -- which Jose was charged with planning -- was in celebration of the one-year anniversary of Queer Intersections Portland, a local nonprofit that advocates for and supports LGBTQ youth of color. Jose has been an integral part of the organization since its early days, first volunteering as the deputy director and now serving as its director of operations.
That June night, Jose bravely told his story and revealed his status as an undocumented resident to the audience. Queer Intersections Portland raised nearly $6,000 in donations that evening.
But sharing his experience and volunteering his time is par for the course for Jose.
One of Jose’s most recent volunteering exploits includes leading the “Opportunities in Education Tour,” a project aimed at increasing the number of LGBTQ students of color enrolling in college, finishing high school or getting a GED.
According to Jose, the tour -- made up of representatives from Queer Intersections Portland, Pride Foundation, Outside In, and the Equity Foundation -- travels to “different spaces where queer and trans youth of color are present” to make the process of finishing high school and applying for college and scholarships a little less daunting.
When gearing up for college himself, Jose encountered some difficulties when trying to track down scholarships that applied to him as an undocumented Hispanic and openly gay student. So he started compiling a list for himself. And he kept compiling that list for the better part of a year.
As the list of applicable scholarships began to grow, the criteria expanded, as well.
“I started compiling (scholarships) related to Hispanic youth earlier on,” says Jose. “Then after talking to Giovanni (McKenzie, director and founder of Queer Intersections Portland), we started compiling scholarships for different ethnicities.”
The aim was to share the fruits of Jose’s labor in the hopes that it will help other gay youth of color attend college. Jose landed a Pride Foundation scholarship.
Born in Sinaloa, Mexico, Jose and was one of seven children. He has two older sisters, two younger brothers and two younger sisters. Jose’s family immigrated to Oregon when he was just a year old. He recalls the challenges of growing up in Oregon as an undocumented resident.
“It was really difficult because I had to keep quiet about being undocumented,” he recalls. “When I was little, I didn’t really understand what that meant.”
But Jose does remember not being able to feel as “carefree” as the other kids in school and having the sense that he “wasn’t normal.”
Luckily, Jose found solace among his family. “Having that big a family, helped me a little bit. There was always someone to talk to at home,” he says.
In 2014, Jose received a federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals permit. “It allows me to stay here, work here and go to school here. Drive,” says Jose. “That kinda gave me a bigger sense of security.”
When Jose is not volunteering at Queer Intersections Portland, these days you can find him studying hard at Portland State University. He is currently a freshman with plans to major in nursing and become a nurse practitioner one day.
Jose’s interest in the medical field was sparked after receiving excellent care during and following two surgeries to address a heart condition he experienced as a preteen. “I realized that these doctors and nurses were really helping others at such a professional level,” says Jose. “These people were literally improving the experiences of other people’s lives. I was inspired by that and thought that would be perfect route for me to go to.”
Recently, Jose says he feels driven to learn more about the discrimination faced by someone who is “a person of color, or a queer or trans person, or both” in the healthcare system.
“What I really want to do is go into that profession... being a person of color, an undocumented youth, a queer youth, and also genderqueer,” says Jose. “I really hope to create a safe and welcoming environment for my patients.”
Between the three-hour commute to and from college, his school workload and his volunteer work, Jose doesn’t have much downtime. But with the free time he does have, he enjoys exploring downtown Portland, hiking, dabbling in drag and having picnics with his friends Jesse, Kristen, Zara, Lincy and Erika.
When asked about what drives him to volunteer, Jose says: “Having the experiences that I’ve had and not really having anyone there for me. I’ve always recall having to reach out. I always had to be reaching out to my teachers asking ‘Hey, why do I feel like this?’ or ‘Why do I feel different?’ No one was really there guide me.
“The reason why I do the work that I do is I think a lot of people within the education system and in general need to realize that these identities exist,” Jose continues. “I didn’t know what it meant to be gay until I was in 6th or 7th grade. And even before then I knew there was something different about me. Going around really exposing myself to other youth that are around me helps them realize they’re not alone.”