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The Latina Behind the Latina List

Posted on 09/06/2011 @ 09:37 AM

How do you change the world if you’re still struggling to love yourself?

How do you love yourself when you’re a young gay woman raised in a conservative Catholic family that believes homosexuality is wrong?

For decades, Catherine Pino, one of Washington D.C.’s most influential Latino lobbyists and advocates, wrestled with those questions, building a fence around her most private self even as she began to build a career based on helping others.

Still, the questions lingered.

She left her childhood home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, traveled to Europe, moved to Washington D.C., and worked for the National Council of La Raza, one of the country’s most respected Latino civil rights organizations.

Then Pino moved to New York to pursue a graduate degree in public policy at New York University and was introduced to the Hetrick-Martin Institute. The experience transformed her life.

An organization devoted to gay, lesbian, and transgender youth, the Hetrick-Martin Institute offers counseling, job training, academic support and operates the Harvey Milk High School.

The young people Pino met through the institute were a revelation. Some had stories that broke her heart. Others shone with vibrancy and enthusiasm. All staggered her with their strength and courage.

“It was a turning point for me,” says Pino, now 45. “These young people inspired me to live authentically. They changed my world.”

At the time, Pino, constrained by her Catholic upbringing, had only come out to a few people and wrestled with self-doubt and depression.

“There were a lot of strong messages that being gay was wrong and the church didn’t accept it,” says Pino. “Coming out was a big obstacle. You don’t realize what kind of toll keeping love inside has on you. I wasn’t able to soar until I embraced who I was.”

Ingrid Duran, Catherine Pino and Grace Garcia, founders of Poder PAC with actor and community activitist Rosie Perez Pino quickly became a force in the foundation and philanthropic world, managing a $48 million youth development and education portfolio at DeWitt Wallace-Readers Digest Fund and serving as deputy director of Urban School Reform for the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

She also emerged as a leading voice in LGBT issues, becoming the first Latina to co-chair and sit on the board of the Hetrick-Martin and serving on the board of The Victory Fund, which provides financial and campaign support for gay and lesbian political candidates.

In 2004, Pino and her life partner, Ingrid Duran, founded D&P Creative Strategies, a philanthropic and consulting firm whose clients include Wal-Mart, Comcast, and Excelencia in Education. The D&P motto: “Consulting with a conscience.”

Catherine Pino with life and business partner, Ingrid Duran Pino and Duran, who have known each other more than 20 years and have been a couple for nearly eight years, also created Poder PAC, a political action committee with the goal of increasing the number of Latinas in elected office.

Pino’s mother, who raised three children on her own and struggled to make ends meet, once prayed for her daughter to meet the right man. Now, says Pino, she is “incredibly supportive and loves Ingrid.”

Catherine Pino with her mother, Mary Pino “She is the love of my life, my soul mate,” Pino says of Duran. “Ingrid and I are so much in sync. We both want to change the world.”

The couple’s latest ventures, Brown Beauty Productions and Milagro Productions, have taken them into the cinematic world.

They serve as executive producers of “The Latino List,” a film project profiling 25 Latinos who have contributed to the political, cultural, artistic and athletic life of the United States. Patterned after “The Black List Project,” the movie will air on HBO on September 29. An exhibit of portraits by photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders of the subjects, who include Eva Longoria, Sonia Sotomayor, and America Ferrara, will be on display at the Brooklyn Museum of Art from August 19 to December 11.

“There is a lot of hate going on,” explains Pino. “One of the things we want to do is show positive images of Latinos in the country.”

For Pino, “The Latino List” is just one more step in the journey she began as a little girl in Albuquerque—a pilgrimage of self-discovery and community service.

“I want to change the world,” says Pino. “So if I can make one Latina’s world better by being a model in terms of living authentically and honestly, that will make me happy.”

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