AQUA Foundation Has First Trans Man Leading Organization

Photo via Mateo A. Ventura Bruer, LinkedIn.

Queer women in Florida have always been underrepresented in nearly every function of daily life. Even today, there is only one organization dedicated to tackling their issues and giving them a voice. That organization is AQUA Foundation for Women.

Over nearly 20 years, they have worked for LGBTQ women to have equal representation in life and access to all human rights. Now they have taken a bold step in choosing their new executive director.

Mateo Ventura Bruer is breaking a lot of ground in the role.

“I’m the first transgender executive director they’ve had. Also the first masculine executive director they’ve had.”

News of the hire caught some people off guard. Bruer says he’s heard about rumblings in the community, but no one has given him a problem.

“There have been some people in the broader LGBTQ community questioning why a woman isn’t running the organization. I haven’t heard any of that directly. I’m happy to talk to anyone who wants to know what I envision for AQUA.”

What he envisions is raising AQUA’s presence in the community. Pandemic took a toll on many organizations, including AQUA. Bruer wants to reengage with people who drifted away and reach out to new people. That includes reestablishing a stronger presence in Broward County.

Upcoming events include Break the Stigma on Aug. 19 at the Happening Out Television Studios on the Sunshine Cathedral campus. The event will feature keynote speaker Shawn Tinsley, and is an HIV/AIDS conference for women and femmes. TransCon is a conference by and for trans and nonbinary people. Sept. 9 at the Scott Galvin Community Center in North Miami. Both events start at 10 a.m.

Journey of Self Discovery

Bruer’s road to where he is today has been long, and at times he didn’t even know which road he was on.

“I first started questioning my gender and sexuality in college in my twenties, and I was only ready to tackle one of those things. I came to grips with being bisexual. I had always known I liked both or all genders, but I didn’t know that was okay.”

It wasn’t until pandemic hit that he was able to take time for himself and do meaningful soul-searching.

“As I was working out and being introspective, it changed my relationship with my body and these feelings that came up earlier came back in full force.”

He realized he’s nonbinary and transmasculine and decided to socially and medically transition. Bruer had a level of support that eludes many, if not most, trans people. His partner stayed with him and they are together today, having met 11 years ago and been married eight.

“When I was working myself up and thinking I’m nonbinary, I finally got the courage to tell him that. He was like, ‘Yeah, you didn’t know that?’ He knew before I knew.”

The men are raising a 5-year-old daughter.

Life of Advocacy

Bruer has known he wanted to make an impact on the world long before joining AQUA as executive director. He has a Masters in social justice and human rights from Arizona State University.

Bruer worked for years at YWCA on their racial and gender equity advancement.

“They were welcoming and wanting to learn, but there weren’t things in place before I got there.”

Systemic and community barriers were there and waiting to be broken. He says he enjoyed the progress the extremely pro-woman organization made during his tenure, but knew other challenges were calling.

“I wanted to spend more time with my queer family. I had limited opportunities [at YWCA] to do that. I wanted to be able to impact the queer community more directly.”

First, Bruer joined AQUA’s board of directors and was part of the executive director search committee. He realized he was more than qualified for the role.

“I had an insight you don’t often get when you’re interviewing for a new position. I knew the board members, and had a deep understanding of the work.”

He resigned from the board and applied as a candidate. Bruer sees his appointment as a generational shift at AQUA.

“I embody that in a lot of different ways. I’m the first transgender executive director they’ve had. Also the first masculine executive director they’ve had. I have experience as a queer woman. Having a personal connection to the work is very valuable.”

Now that he’s in the job, his first goal is to expand awareness of AQUA and its services.

“We are here for queer women. There’s so much exclusionary rhetoric out there. I want no part of that.”

Helping trans women is a large part of that mission.

“Trans people are facing an unprecedented level of violence. Having trans leaders who understand that space that we occupy can be applied to anyone under the queer umbrella.”

Queer women find themselves at a disadvantage at almost every turn, and having an organization like AQUA in their corner is important.

“The disparities that we see as far as the outcomes for queer women are still much different than queer people of other identities. We are the home for queer women in South Florida. Florida has no other nonprofits that centralize and focus on women at the core of what they do.”

As for Bruer, he’s enjoying the challenges life throws at him, and firmly believes he is stronger for them.

“Diversity of thought and experiences can be very powerful. Being true to your mission while still having your allies with you, lends to greater success.

“I’m much happier with where I am now versus several years ago. I definitely feel like this is the right decision, and I’m going in the right direction.”


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