A passion for social justice issues inspired Myra Llerenas to enroll in the Women Studies Program at New Mexico State University. Now, the College of Arts and Sciences alumna has a promising career at Equality New Mexico, a statewide nonprofit organization that works on behalf of the LGBTQ community toward a “fair and inclusive New Mexico.”
Llerenas, who graduated in December 2014, is the organization’s Southern New Mexico field coordinator. While Equality New Mexico is based in Albuquerque, she works from her home in Las Cruces.
“That’s what I love about my job – the adventure of what the day is going to be like; debriefing on phone calls I’ve been in on, planning for the next events, a lot of interactions with the community,” said Llerenas, who minored in government. “It varies from day to day, and that’s what I really like about it.”
Among her duties, Llerenas organizes workshops on the intersection of LGBTQ rights and immigrant rights. A member of the Southern Borders Communities Coalition, she works closely with other local organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico Regional Center for Border Rights (where she interned as a student).
Although most workshops are aimed at those who self identify as LGBTQ, allies are also welcomed.
“Allies have been instrumental in helping us achieve marriage equality,” Llerenas explained. “Now that we have that, we’re looking at what’s next. Where do we continue this momentum and put it toward other collective actions for other communities who have also been marginalized?”
Earlier this year, Llerenas helped co-present “Queer and Undocumented: Bridging Conversations Across Identities,” an educational workshop that explores how immigration policies have historically affected both communities, as well as learn why it’s important to organize for collective action.
As an undergraduate, Llerenas wasn’t always certain of what her major would be, but she knew she wanted to work on social justice issues. While pursuing an NMSU course catalog, she came across some classes being offered by the Women’s Studies Program within the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies.
“I had so many interests that I wanted to pursue,” she said. “What drew my attention was how social justice oriented it was. Because of how multidisciplinary it is, it brings in a lot of theories and ideas and works – government, law, sociology, history. It bridges things I’m interested in and allows me to explore what I’m passionate about.”
Llerenas credits her former professors for playing an instrumental role in her career. They helped connect her to conferences and other organizers.
“Myra’s commitment to equality and justice for marginalized peoples is absolute,” said Laura Anh Williams, director of the Women Studies Program. “She is an amazing person whose intelligence, caring and drive come together to do great things inside and outside the classroom. The entire Women’s Studies Program is proud of her, and we eagerly follow her career and involvement with social justice activism across the borderlands and beyond.”
Among the challenges of Llerenas’ job are the obstacles of being a one-person team, prioritizing immediate goals and above all else, learning to accept the “pace of how change comes about.”
Even with the success of achieving marriage equality within the state in 2013, there is plenty of work awaiting the organization and others like it. For example, Llerenas explained, issues of poverty, health equality and lobbying for policies against bullying – all areas that are somewhat interconnected. These issues, she added, are not limited to the LGBT community.
Eventually, Llerenas said she’d like to work as a lawyer for Lambda Legal, a legal organization based in New York that works toward the civil rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people.
“I identify as a Queer Chicana,” she said. “I want to be empowering, a role model/mentor to others. I love learning from other people. When you have an impact on people’s lives, it has a domino effect.”
Although she was born in Los Angeles, Llerenas was raised in Las Cruces and considers it home. She and her partner, Rose Daniel, have two cats, Mr. Leo and Queen B.