Trying to figure out where you belong in the LGBT community can be an intimidating process. The transient nature of Washington means there is a revolving door of new people moving to the District on a regular basis.
It’s possible that newcomers were tied to an LGBT community in their prior location, but moving to a new city is an opportunity to explore new options. It might be a chance to find their inner athlete, try a harness on for the first time or imagine the thought of getting up on stage in drag.
Providence, proximity or common purpose can lead anyone to something new, but it could also be as simple as just leaving fears behind and taking that step forward.
Miguel Ayala has found a place in multiple LGBT communities and there were varied reasons for him joining each of them.
“A lot of people think there is no crossover in the LGBT communities, but if you dig deeper you are going to find the connections,” Ayala says. “People are exploring what makes them tick and to accomplish that, they are looking in several places.”
Ayala grew up in Chicago and that first step forward happened for him when he was browsing curriculum as a high school freshman and he noticed that there was English and African-American literature, but nothing for the Latino community.
“That really got my wheels turning,” Ayala says. “I thought there should be parity and I got involved in trying to change the curriculum.”
He served on student council and the city-wide Chicago school board along with starting the LGBT Student Pride Club. His political path continued at DePaul University where he served as a resident assistant and his fraternity chapter president along with being a member of the Pride Club and multicultural Greek council.
During his undergrad years he spent a summer as an intern with congressman Luis Gutierrez and after graduation, he moved to the District in 2002. For 14 years he worked as a federal employee, mostly on Capitol Hill.
After volunteering with the Obama campaign, he left his job in 2016 to join the Clinton campaign as communications director for the State of Nevada. He is now self-employed as an independent contractor.
“When I first came to D.C., I thought I would do my graduate work at one of the universities here,” Ayala says. “I ended up with the political bug and was lured in by the Capitol dome.”
Finding his LGBT community in the District evolved into finding multiple communities. The only sports he played growing up were neighborhood games of basketball and football. Hoping to embrace a more fit and healthy lifestyle, he started going to pick-up basketball games with the D.C. Sentinels and eventually joined their league along with Stonewall Kickball and the D.C. Front Runners.
He ended up running several half marathons including the race at the Cleveland Gay Games. His first full marathon was completed at the Marine Corps Marathon. Since 2013, he has been a board member of Team D.C., the information clearinghouse for LGBT sports.
“Joining the sports community was an opportunity to build friendships not tied to going to bars,” Ayala says. “It was eye-opening that there was this whole LGBT community dedicated to sports in D.C. and even beyond through tournaments. I am building connections all around the country.”
Another community was a curiosity, but the stereotype of masculinity meant dealing with a structure where he might not be accepted. He popped into the International Mister Leather conference in Chicago and ran out the door.
When the D.C. Eagle was on New York Avenue, he moved nearby and wanted to check out his neighborhood bar. He met Kyle Collins and it was a launchpad to finding other ways to get involved with the leather community. He ran for the Mr. D.C. Eagle title and became one of the co-founders of D.C. Leather Pride.
“The leather community has allowed me to embrace my sexuality and to appreciate that there are different people who like different things,” Ayala says. “I didn’t understand that until I was part of the community. I have found another family that reaches across the country.”
Dressing as a woman for Halloween in high school might not count as drag, but Ayala recognized that there is a thriving drag community. When he found out that the Miss Adams Morgan Pageant was supporting nonprofits, he put his energy into having some fun. Enter Moka Loka Latte.
As a member of the Dupont Social Club, he has competed three times at Miss Adams Morgan. Next month he will be performing at Valentine’s Day is a Drag to benefit SMYAL.
“Performing in drag without making a living out of it, allows me to do something for our community through fundraising,” Ayala says. “It is fun and it has an impact.”
The commonality in all of Ayala’s endeavors is “found family” and community. It reaches far beyond the D.C. metro area.
“I choose to be a part of all of these communities because I like to see their impact on our entire community,” Ayala says. “Their effect goes well beyond D.C. and creates national communities.”