When doctoral student Norma Seledon was inducted into the City of Chicago’s LGBT Hall of Fame recently, it brought the number of National Louis University students who have received that honor to three. All–including previous inductees Christina Smith and Gaylon Alcaraz--are pursuing their Ph.Ds in NLU’s Community Psychology program.
Seledon actually received two Hall of Fame awards this year. The first was for more than two decades of leadership in organizations that empower and support women, Latinas and the LGBT community. The second was as a founding member of the non-profit Amigas Latinas, which was also inducted in the Hall of Fame.
Seledon came to the U.S. just after finishing kindergarten in her native Mexico, and it took her a couple of years to become fluent in English and participate in classes.
“I’ve always known I was different, all the way to the doctoral level,” she says of her immigrant status as it relates to her schooling.
She received a bachelor’s in psychology and Spanish at Loyola University of Chicago, and a master’s from Northeastern Illinois University through the ENLACE program, which is designed to increase the number of Latino administrators at the university level.
She worked as a counselor, specializing in domestic violence, sexual assault, youth and family issues, then moved into administration at a non-profit agency.
After a marriage to a man that unraveled in a traumatic divorce, Seledon said she started to come out as a lesbian–though the marriage disbanded due to relationship issues, not her sexual orientation.
Around that time, in the mid-1990s, she met some women trying to organize a group for Latina lesbians, and Seledon became a founding member as the group, Amigas Latinas, gained non-profit status.
“It was supportive to me personally and professionally,” she recalled.
The professional support became important because around the time of that difficult divorce, Seledon lost her job as executive director of Mujeres Latinas En Accion, a large non-profit organization for Hispanic women, which in part feared a negative backlash against an LGBTQ administrator.
“There’s always a silver lining,” Seledon observed. “That organization (Mujeres) now has a deeper commitment to support Latinas in the LGBTQ community. I’ve since made my peace with them.”
In fact, she has supported the development of their Latina leadership programs, which she had originally founded, and directed their production of “The Vagina Monologues.”
In contrast to Mujeres Latinas en Action, a large non-profit with national and international networks, Amigas Latinas was a much smaller, grassroots organization created to provide support, education and advocacy for LGBTQ Latinas.
“We provided safe spaces for community members to come together to explore our identities as women, mothers and partners,” explained Seledon, who was a co-director of the group. “The things Amigas did were spectacular.”
Those included teaching Latinas to do things important for their community, including having healthy relationships, preventing domestic violence, having a presence in parades and activities, training professionals, such as health providers and therapists, to be culturally competent around lesbian Latinas and educating funders on why they ought to fund Latina LGBTQ organizations.
As co-director, Seledon helped organize, fundraise, work in program development, keep records and act as facilitator at workshops–all as a volunteer.
Last year, however, after aiding Latina lesbians for about 20 years, Amigas Latinas disbanded after some of its founders stepped down, which made management more challenging. Seledon feels it or a similar organization will emerge, however, since the need for it is still there.
In her professional life since the mid-1990s, Seledon has worked for the Illinois Caucus on Adolescent Health and the Lesbian Community Cancer Project. She then moved to the Chicago Public Schools as Title 1 program coordinator.
She administers the Title 1 program, which supports students who are struggling in math and reading, in Chicago’s private schools.
She works everyday with Catholic, Christian, Lutheran, Jewish, Muslim and private schools, which contributes to her comfort with diversity in all its forms, she said.
And she relates to Community Psychology principles in both her career and volunteer lives.
“My tie-in to Community Psychology is that I have a deep interest in healthy organizations,” she said. The values of Community Psychology resonated with the skills she had at the time she enrolled, and she wants to develop further skills in race relations, organizational and community health and cultural competence.
“Part of my mission now since finishing my coursework is to take my support of organizations in the field to a new level,” she said. “I try to make connections between young people and older people, between neighborhoods, between ethnicities, between experiences, between sub-communities.”