During Hispanic Heritage Month, TODAY is sharing the community’s history, pain, joy, and pride. We are highlighting Hispanic trailblazers and rising voices. TODAY will be publishing personal essays, stories, videos, and specials throughout the month of September and October. For more, head here.
From their breakout role in Amazon’s “Transparent,” to starring in HBO’s “The Sex Lives of College Girls,” Amazon Prime’s “S.O.Z: Soldados o Zombies,” Starz’s “Vida,” and Freeform’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay,” Vico Ortiz is blazing a fiery trail to make the entertainment industry more inclusive for LatinX and non-binary performers, almost single-handedly.
“I’m not just fighting for me. I’m fighting for the freedom of all of us,” Ortiz tells TODAY. “My queerness has given me a lens to see how things are affecting all of us of every walk of life.”
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Ortiz is a non-binary actor and activist who knew they wanted to be an actor since childhood while growing up in an artistic household with accomplished stage performers as parents. Ortiz — who uses the pronouns they/them and elle/le — has fond memories of watching their mother and father backstage while doing homework and sometimes helping with props and costumes.
In addition to becoming involved in the arts, Ortiz took up fencing and traveled the world representing Puerto Rico on their national fencing team including the Pan American Games in Rio in 2007. It was actually their fencing experience that helped them break into the entertainment industry as a stunt performer. Now, they hope to use their platform to advocate for inclusivity in front of the screen and behind it.
“Take a show that’s been made 1,000 times like a crime drama like ‘NCIS,” Oritz says. “Not just the cast, but I would like see the representation in every department that makes the show come to life. I’d like to see someone who is Latine, Black, queer, in a wheelchair working on the show. I’d like to see some who’s neurodivergent and deaf on set, in the writers room, behind the camera, as executive producers, costumers, and gaffers.”
They continued, “It’s not just the actors advocating for themselves. The writers room reflects what’s being said on screen. And if the storytelling is to be as colorful and rich as we need it to be, it has to reflect the human experience which comes from real people bringing their full selves and their lived experiences to set. That’s one big way we improve the representation of people of color, queer people, and others. Real, authentic storytelling.”
Currently, Ortiz is in production as a series lead in the new highly anticipated HBO Max comedy series “Our Flag Means Death." Ortiz is also set to voice a non-binary character in Nickelodeon’s “The Casagrandes,” the breakthrough animated series that follows a multi-generational Mexican-American family.
Ortiz says coming out as non-binary presented challenges as a Puerto Rican, and they believe making the Spanish language more inclusive could make things better for other LGBTQ Latinx people.
“In Latin America, there’s been a great deal of progress around gay and lesbian identities,” Ortiz says. “But with being transgender and non-binary, a lot of people are still unsure what it all means and I believe it’s connected to the words we use.”
They continue, “Spanish language is incredibly binary and it informs the way we see the world. The language is very male-centered and anything else is treated as an other. I use neutral pronouns to include and honor everyone and call attention to how this gendered language has done everything it can to erase people.”
The actor, who uses their TikTok channel to educate people about gendered language, says updating the language to be more inclusive can help improve LGBTQ visibility and acceptance.
“We are making a conscious choice to show we exist by disrupting this language,” Ortiz says. “We’ve always existed. That’s why we keep popping up. Language is alive and it evolves. Language is there to express who we are. We don’t speak the same language from 50, 100 or 200 years ago. Every word we have is made up, so we’re disrupting it and we’ll make something up that is inclusive for all people.”
Though Ortiz says they had a positive experience coming out as non-binary to their family, they know that’s not the case for many other LGBTQ people. Their advice to parents and children is to act out of love.
“If you don’t have the inclusive language down, or mess up, know that it’s OK."
“People have to give space for time,” they explain. “There’s so much ingrained in us that we have to deconstruct and deprogram. While you do the work, know that you don’t have to understand everything to keep loving that person. Yes, understanding is great and the goal, but while you’re in the process of dismantling, you can still hold space for this person and respect and love them.”
They continue, “It can be scary for parents because they are also coming out with their child in a way as a parent of an LGBTQ child. My mom actually connected with other parents of non-binary kids and now she has that connection and her own community to be part of.”
Ortiz also says forgiveness and patience go a long way. “If you don’t have the inclusive language down, or mess up, know that it’s OK. We’re humans and all still learning.”
For more of our Hispanic Heritage Month coverage, tune into TODAY All Day’s special, “Come with Us: Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month,” hosted by Tom Llamas. Watch Wednesday, Sept. 29, at 12:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. EST at TODAY.com/allday.