Mary Lou Moreno & Art Moreno
Mary Lou Moreno and her husband Art Moreno are philanthropists who are best known for their ongoing activism within the El Paso region. Over the years they’ve been active, they have spoken out on issues that affect LGBTQ+ communities at a disproportionate level. Their most notable involvement has been with the Border AIDS Partnership (and its precursors), an organization here in El Paso which seeks to strengthen our region’s response to HIV/AIDS through increasing awareness and education on the disease.
Mary Lou Moreno and Art Moreno are Borderland natives who are activists, philanthropists and have been overall contributors to the LGBTQ+ movement over the span of roughly three decades. Though they are both now retired, the work done by Mary Lou and Art has left a lasting impact on our region, specifically due to their long-standing involvement with the Border AIDS Partnership, its precursor HIV/AIDS organizations, and the El Paso Community Foundation. Art and Mary Lou also helped found the El Paso Chapter of PFLAG in 1995 in order to increase support for the families and friends of LGBTQ people and to help advocate for human rights for LGBTQ people. PFLAG leadership was quickly adopted by Gery and Lorain Amundson, while Art and Mary Lou focused on HIV/AIDS philanthropy and advocacy. Through the years Mary Lou and Art were active, they were known for continuously speaking out on the need to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic, their concern for the welfare of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as their dedication and efforts for the annual gala fundraisers which raised money for the Border AIDS Partnership.
Mary Lou Moreno was born in 1936 in Juarez, to mother Carmen Madrid and Father Louis Madrid. Mary Lou was one of nine children, and her family made a living by farming cotton in the Lower Valley of El Paso. She attended St. Ignatius in El Paso throughout grade school, attended high school in Ciudad Juarez, and eventually went on to college in Mexico City to study business. Despite growing up during the midst of the Great Depression, Mary Lou recounts the values her parents instilled within her and her siblings which lied in the spirit of philanthropy. Mary Lou believes that the philosophy of giving to those in need is something that guided her throughout her life.
Art Moreno was born in 1934 to mother J.N. Moreno and father Juan Moreno. Art was born and raised in El Paso, where he also attended school. Growing up, Art developed a passion for photography after being introduced to the hobby by his father. Art, like Mary Lou, also valued a sense of community involvement and became affiliated with the Catholic Church and the local YMCA. It wasn’t until 1958 when Mary Lou and Art were married at Our Lady of Guadalupe in El Paso. By September of 1972, Art was able to turn his passion for photography into a career. He founded Art’s Photographic, a company that sold camera equipment and provided photo-related services, and would successfully serve El Paso for over 20 years. Art Moreno also helped organize and sponsor several local community and charity events through the name of his company throughout this time.
The beginnings of Art and Mary Lou’s involvement with the LGBTQ+ community date back to when they found out their son had AIDS. After hearing this devastating news, they made it their mission to educate themselves on everything HIV and AIDS-related in order to offer them the best support they could. In the following years, their involvement with the issue became more public, beginning with Art Moreno’s response to a series of harsh comments made by former El Paso County Commissioner Orlando Fonseca. In 1987, Orlando Fonseca made statements suggesting that victims of AIDS should be castrated to stop the disease’s spread, further mentioning that he was “too religious to condone homosexuality.” These comments prompted concern and compassion from various religious leaders of El Paso, including Art Moreno. Art publicly addressed Fonseca’s comments with disapproval, stating that as a father of a gay son he didn’t believe homosexuality was a choice, and that Fonseca’s take on the matter was unproductive, crude, insensitive, and bigoted. This public statement was hardly the last mention of Art’s alliance with the LGBTQ+ community.
Over the next two decades, the work of Art and Mary Lou skyrocketed. Both became board members of the El Paso Community Foundation, meaning they’d contributed to important decisions and organizations being made within the local community. In 1994 the El Paso Community Foundation and the U.S./Mexico Border Health Association collaborated to create a local HIV/AIDS Partnership, or what’s now known as the Border AIDS Partnership. The BAP would go on to fund nonprofit organizations in the surrounding area working on the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The purpose of the BAP is to strengthen our region’s response to HIV/AIDS by increasing critical funding for education and prevention services for those who are affected by HIV/AIDS or are at high risk of infection. Art and Mary Lou’s involvement with the BAP would significantly impact the outreach and funding of the program as time went on.
The BAP worked with organizations such as Planned Parenthood in efforts to raise money and awareness for projects which would support the local LGBTQ+ community. In November of 2000, an El Paso Times article was published to notify the community of the BAP’s upcoming gala fundraising event—its only campaign to run annually. It was mentioned that Planned Parenthood had already received two grants from BAP by this time to fund the Young People’s Project, which was created for support of the youth between the ages of 13-21 who were gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Within this article, Mary Lou Moreno went on further clarify the project’s important mission: “The project’s mission is to empower young gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to help improve their self-image, self-esteem and make behavioral changes that will lead to good health habits” (El Paso Times, 2000).
Mary Lou would make several more appearances as a guest columnist in the El Paso Times newspaper over the years in efforts to spread awareness about the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the ways in which it affected the local community: “The border continues to be plagued by desperately poor health conditions. In an area of extreme poverty and sub-standard health services, the disease spreads easily with the consistent flow of people between Mexico and the United States. Under these conditions, HIV has had the opportunity to thrive in the Ciudad Juárez-El Paso border region” (El Paso Times, 2005). In October of 2004, the BAP hosted its 9th annual gala event featuring music, dinner, an auction, cocktails, and a special presentation. By this time, Art and Mary Lou’s involvement with BAP was so significant that they were honored for their activism in the field of HIV/AIDS prevention.
Shortly after, in 2006, the El Paso Community Foundation received a $10,000 grant for the purpose of creating the Alliance Fund, benefiting LGBTQ+ and allied communities in West Texas. The mission of the fund was to develop and enhance resources that would benefit the LGBTQ+ community.
In 2006 the BAP also hosted the “Spotlight 2006: One Night. One Stage. One Reason to Celebrate Life”, a gala fundraising event that took place on December 1st, World AIDS Day. Mary Lou went above and beyond in coordinating the entertainment of the event in hopes of a bigger turnout. She reached out to local talents from El Paso, Juarez, and Southern New Mexico – groups like the El Paso Symphony Youth Orchestra, UTEP Ballet, Mariachi Femenil Flores Mexicanas, and a vocal quartet from New Mexico State University were all in attendance at the fundraiser. The master of ceremonies was actor Josh Lucas, who had just performed in the film ‘Glory Road’ playing the role of former UTEP basketball coach Don Haskins. As expected, the turnout of the event was phenomenal. About 2,000 people attended the event and a total of about $150,000 was raised to support local programs of AIDS education and awareness. In 2008 Mary Lou Moreno was also elected for a two-year term as one of the two community partner representatives for the National AIDS board of trustees.
The son of Mary Lou and Art tragically died from his battle with AIDS. Mary Lou and Art Moreno have now been retired from their work for over 10 years, however, the impact they left on the Borderland remains the same. Through the publications made by Mary Lou and Art in El Paso Times, their contributions to the El Paso Community Foundation and the Border Aids Partnership, as well as their work within the community itself, they have successfully advanced the LGBTQ+ community’s visibility within our region. The dedication of these two individuals has led to the strengthening of the LGBTQ+ movement within El Paso and the ways in which we tackle the issues which affect the LGBTQ+ community.