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An Immigrant’s Fight for LGBTQ Rights

For Ada Bello, the American dream was about the freedom to be herself

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Ada Bello, 88, has been at the forefront of the LGBTQ movement in the United States since the early 1960s. Born to a conservative Catholic middle-class family in Havana, Cuba, where she felt she could not openly live as a lesbian, Bello set her sights on moving north.

She got a chemistry degree from Louisiana State University and, in 1962, headed to Philadelphia to work at the University of Pennsylvania. It was in Philadelphia that Bello would meet other women who, like herself, sought to live and love openly and equally.

By 1967, Bello had helped launch the Philadelphia chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian rights organization in the United States. She was also participating in annual Fourth of July demonstrations in front of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall meant to underscore that LGBTQ rights are human rights protected by the U.S. Constitution. In addition to launching or supporting many other gay groups, Bello also helped organize From All Walks of Life, one of the first walkathon fundraisers for AIDS research.

​“Advocating for LGBTQ elders in long-term care gave me the opportunity of exploring the challenges of aging while perhaps helping others in the process.” 

—Ada Bello

As Bello aged, her activism began to focus on LGBTQ rights for older adults. She served on the board of the LGBT Elder Initiative and was a panelist at the 2010 LGBT Aging Summit. After retiring, Bello volunteered for two decades as a long-term care ombudsman, advocating for LGBTQ adults. “It gave me the opportunity of exploring the challenges of aging while perhaps helping others in the process,” she said when accepting the 2020 Spirit of CARIE Award.

That award was given to Bello “for her courage and compassion, her lifelong advocacy on behalf of the LGBTQ community, and her commitment to improving the lives of the most vulnerable adults,” according to the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly. ​

​Watch the video above to hear about her story. ​

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