Caught between two identities. That’s how Elicia Gonzales described one of the largest issues facing the Latino lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Gonzales works as an executive director for Galaei, a non-profit organization in Philadelphia that raises awareness about the issues the Latino LGBT population face. The organization primarily focuses on health related issues such as HIV/AIDS.
“We’re outsiders to both communities,” Gonzales said. “When you feel displaced, it automatically sets you up against challenges.”
Gonzales stressed the importance of finding a place to consider home.
Gloria Casarez, the director of LGBT affairs in Philadelphia, said the LGBT community is a diverse group of people made up of different communities, Latino being just one of them.
Casarez said, “As much as we can, we encourage people to own their space in the Latino community, in the LGBT community and in their families.”
Galaei said she attempts to be a bridge between communities. Though the primary focus is health related, it is also a place where people in similar situations can come together. Founded in 1989 by David Acosta, it was one of the first organizations of its kind.
Acosta grew up in the Latino community and got involved in Latino activism at a young age. His involvement allowed him connections to leaders in the community when he began to raise awareness about LGBT issues.
Acosta said, “One of the things that I really tried to do back then was to draw the connections so that people would see the issues that made us more similar than different.”
Gonzales said people were slow to recognize the LGBT community among Latinos.
“Sometimes there’s not even language to identify,” Gonzales said about explaining LGBT issues in the Latino community.
Gonzales pointed out that there is no word for queer in the Spanish language. She also said most words that exist to describe a person or issues pertaining to the LGBT community are slightly derogatory.
The issues that the Latino LGBT community face are similar to issues that other members of the LGBT community face, whether it be job discrimination, marriage opposition and other issues. Casarez said the Latino LGBT community also faces some issues that aren’t applicable to other communities, including immigration and language access.
“Sometimes we have unique needs that aren’t on the radar,” Casarez said.
Alex Gonzalez, a student in Philadelphia and member of the Latino LGBT community, said he faced religious backlash in his home.
“It’s a social thing,” Gonzalez said. “They didn’t want a gay son.”
Gonzalez said he relied on his friends for support, but his family’s attitudes have also changed. He said he tries to act as a mentor to peers who face similar issues.
Acosta said the Latino LGBT population occasionally experiences homophobia like the rest of the LGBT community but also experiences prejudice because of ethnicity.
Fuego Latino, a group that was short lived, tried to increase awareness in Philadelphia about these issues. The Latino LGBT community did not have space in the city to socialize. Fuego Latino held “Latin Nights” in Center City clubs, which allowed Latinos space to come together. Acosta, who was a member of Fuego Latino, said that the issue of space still exists.
As for differences in generations, Acosta said that the younger generations don’t appear to fight as much as activists from other generations, though he also said that there is heightened awareness to the issue these days.
“People no longer feel they need to live in silence or hide who they are,” Acosta said.
In general, attitudes about the Latino LGBT community mirror that of the LGBT community as a whole.
Casarez said the people who stand up for the LGBT community are the biggest allies that help to change the hearts and minds of the rest of the population. There were people who died in isolation without this type of support.
“We are the only recognized minority group that doesn’t have federal rights protection,” Casarez said.
Acosta speculated that the issue of gay marriage will likely increase in awareness over the next few years. While this will be a big battle, he said it is the piece required to resolve the larger issue of LGBT acceptance.
“Right after the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ the world didn’t end,” Acosta said. “I think we’ve come a long way since the ’80s. With greater visibility comes greater acceptance.”
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