robert schumaker & alex herrera
"The real messages need to come from religious leaders, politicians, teachers and parents who teach that just because someone is different, that’s not a license to hurt or treat them differently."
Robert Knight Schumaker and Alejandro (Alex) Herrera were married by Rev. James Millican on April 22, 1994, at the poolside of Villa Sierra Apartments in El Paso. The union between Robert and Alex was historic for El Paso as it was the first gay union to ever be recognized publicly in the El Paso Times newspaper. Rob and Alex are both El Paso natives, with Rob graduating from Austin High School and Alex graduating from Socorro High School. At the time of their marriage, both were already involved with LAMBDA Services, an El Paso non-profit organization that sought to provide support and resources for gay youth and adults. Rob was president and founder of LAMBDA Services while Alex worked as their volunteer coordinator.
LAMBDA Services was originally founded by Rob in 1991, with ads being placed in the El Paso Times newspaper offering the number for a support helpline for gay youth. In August of 1992, Rob wrote his first letter to El Paso Times on behalf of LAMBDA Services, applauding their coverage of LGBTQ+ issues. Rob also went onto highlight the real hardships of the gay community:
“An unenlightened and uninformed society has contributed to a 31 percent increase nationwide in the frequency and severity of violence on gays and those perceived to be gay. Daily we hear of fellow homosexuals being beaten up and exposed to threats and epithets; landlords who turn us away; dentists and doctors who refuse to treat us; police who don’t respond to our calls for help; and government officials who quickly look the other way when we demand greater protection and our civil rights”
The following year, Rob also wrote a column in El Paso Times speaking in favor of lifting the military ban on gay individuals. As time went on LAMBDA Services continued to grow, sponsoring a series of free educational workshops by the director of counseling and testing for the Southwest AIDS Committee, Mark Clark, on sexuality with an emphasis on sexual orientation and homosexuality. LAMBDA Services also partnered with the Southwest AIDS Committee later that year to present the 4th Annual Black & White Ball to raise donations for their organizations.
In January 1994, LAMBDA Services launched Teen Helpline, a telephone referral program operated by and for LGBT youth between the ages of 15 to 21. The line was available from 7 to 11 p.m. on Saturdays and offered understanding, support, information and referrals on a variety of topics.
As the year progressed, Rob Schumaker and LAMBDA Services continued to be outspoken and active within the community. To celebrate Pride Week and the 25th anniversary of Stonewall Uprising, LAMBDA Services organized a variety of events that June including “LAMBDA’S Queer Music Festival”, an event where a variety of gay, bi, and lesbian-themed movies/documentaries were showcased to the public at the organization’s headquarters. That week LAMBDA Services also helped organize free HIV/AIDS testing and counseling and a workshop called “Gay 101: An Introduction to Gay Life” where myths and stereotypes about homosexuality as well as hate and discrimination were addressed.
LAMBDA Services continued to offer resources and support over the next three years and even had a grand re-opening at a new location on Mesa St. in El Paso. The Mesa location was their second site, with LAMBDA first starting out on the corner of Rio Grande and Montana. In 1998, Rob was featured on the radio show ‘El Paso Today!’ with Stephanie Carpenter where he used his platform to discuss issues impacting the gay community. In June of 1999, LAMBDA Services debuted El Paso’s first gay youth play. The play, ‘Piece of Mind’, was written and directed by David Andrew Rubalcava, a 20-year-old member of the LAMBDA youth group. The play debuted as a finale to Pride month in honor of the contributions LGBT individuals had made to society. Rubalcava hoped that by seeing his play, people would realize that being gay isn’t much different from being straight. The first night’s showing had a significant turnout, with about 60 people in attendance. Rob hoped that seeing the play would help others come to a place of tolerance: “People need to be more accepting and maybe this play will help foster understanding… but the real messages need to come from religious leaders, politicians, teachers and parents who teach that just because someone is different, that’s not a license to hurt or treat them differently”.
In February of 2000, LAMBDA Services opened a center known as the El Paso GLBT Community Center on Ochoa St. The purpose of this center was to provide a safe place for people to meet and plan, while offering the LGBTQ+ community resources for handling violence, getting involved locally, using internet services, and learning about HIV/AIDS. Over the following years, LAMBDA Services would continue their involvement with the community through participating in further Pride events, continuously monitoring anti-gay violence, and providing resources to the LGBTQ+ community. Rob Schumaker and Alex Herrera continued to be an integral part of LAMBDA Services, which served the El Paso region until it was dissolved in 2007.
Though the two are no longer married, the historic publication of Rob and Alex’s marriage only marked the beginning of their significance in the Borderland. The work of Rob Schumaker and Alex Herrera made a remarkable impact on LAMBDA Service’s role in the El Paso LGBTQ+ community. Through Rob’s founding of LAMBDA Services and constant advocacy for gay rights, as well as Alex’s dedication to the direction of the organization, the LGBTQ+ community was able to turn into a space of safety and understanding.