By Robert Cyr
Jose Robles was a freshman at New Britain High School when he finally told his friends and family he was gay. He had known for a while, but had become increasingly withdrawn over a fear of how his announcement might be taken.
“It was difficult to say it,” he said. “I was pushing myself away. But they were all fine with it.”
Now a senior, Robles has since joined the Gay-Straight Alliance, a group at the school with chapters at schools throughout the country to spread awareness about gays and lesbians, he said. New Britain’s chapter was started 15 years ago by staff member Fran Quish, he said.
Robles’ story is a part of a larger thread that seems to be bucking a traditional stereotype regarding gay Latinos. Although Latinos are often viewed as being more socially and religiously conservative than other ethnic groups, research shows that they are also more accepting of homosexuals and favor more equality for homosexuals in all areas of society.
A Bendixen and Amandi study commissioned by the LGBT think-tank Movement Advancement Project (MAP) and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), showed that most Latinos support equality for gays and lesbians.
While 55 percent of Latinos say that being gay is morally acceptable, 68 percent of Latino Catholics agree.
Three out of four Latinos in the study supported school policies that prevent harassment and bullying of students who are gay or perceived to be gay. The study also found that:
- 80 percent believe that gay people often face discrimination.
- 83 percent support housing and employment non-discrimination protections for gay people.
- 74 percent support either marriage or marriage-like legal recognition for gay and lesbian couples.
- 73 percent say that gay people should be allowed to serve openly in the military.
But the levels of tolerance seen in the national survey doesn’t necessarily translate to individual cases on the state level. John Glezen, a co-president of the Hartford chapter of Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), said he has seen that young gay Latinos, and gay minority youth in general, have a harder time being accepted than whites do.
“It’s certainly a cultural issue in the Latino community,” he said. “On balance, it would be harder for anyone of color to be accepted within their family structure than a Caucasian person. Religion is a big factor. We hear stories all the time about churches not being as welcoming as we would like them to be.”
Glezen said that only “a few” Latinos attend PGLAG meetings, which include both gay and transgender teens between the ages of 14 and 19.
“I don’t think you can generalize – it’s a function of culture, and sometimes another culture is adverse. But I don’t remember kids coming who had been rejected by their parents. They wouldn’t likely attend our meetings if they had been rejected.”
Robles, who hopes to attend Eastern Connecticut State University in the fall, said that while the attitude towards gays has seemed to improve in general, there are still students who have bigoted “remarks.” And the same challenges are faced by all gays, he said, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion.
“I think the challenges would be equal no matter who you are as a gay person,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re white or Latino. Religion will always be a challenge, no matter what it is or whether you’re white or Latino.”
For the first time, gay Latinos are getting a chance to be heard on the national level. As the fastest-growing segment of the American population, Latinos are drawing increasing political clout, and the gay community will certainly have a voice going forward, said Francisco Duenas, a co-founder of Union=Fuerza.
The group, part of the Latino Institute at Creating Change, is the first-ever gay Latino advocacy group to join the annual gay and lesbian issues conference, Duenas said. Creating Change is the premier annual organizing and skills-building event for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and their allies. It was held last month in Atlanta, Georgia.
“It’s overdue in many ways and everyone’s really happy we’re putting this together,” he said. “Immigration and issues of economic development could maybe effect LGBT Latinos uniquely.”
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