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gay latinos out of the shadows

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  • temenos_poc <poc@temenos.net>
    Southern Voice (glbt), January 31, 2003 1095 Zonolite Road, Atlanta, GA 30306 (E-Mail: editor@southernvoice.com )( http://www.southernvoice.com/ )
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2003
      Southern Voice (glbt), January 31, 2003
      1095 Zonolite Road, Atlanta, GA 30306
      (E-Mail: editor@... )( http://www.southernvoice.com/ )
      Gay Latinos stepping out of shadows
      Census names ethnic group largest minority in U.S. as gay faction
      increases visibility
      By Jennifer J. Smith
      Alexis Markova took to the stage on a recent Friday night,
      appearing before a crowd of a few hundred people tightly packed
      around the dance floor of a Buford Highway club.
      A male-to-female transgender, Markova performs in the weekly
      drag show at Chaparral, which once a week draws a mixed, but mostly
      gay, crowd to the otherwise straight Hispanic nightclub.
      Markova and the drag show during Chaparral's popular gay night
      on Fridays provides an example of the growing gay Hispanic population
      in Atlanta and its struggle for acceptance in a conservative ethnic
      "There are a lot of gay Latinos here, but there are a lot of
      straight Latinos too," said Markova, a Texas native. "We're totally
      accepted by our community – straight guys blow kisses and ask for my
      phone number all the time."
      Gay Latinos are struggling to create an identity, a break from
      their mostly low-profile past as a double minority, at a time when
      Hispanics have become the nation's largest minority group.
      Numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau last week show that
      the Latino population surged to 37 million as of July 2001, 13
      percent of the U.S. population of 284.8 million and slightly
      outstripping the 36.2 million – or 12.7 percent – of African
      "We've known for a long while about the dramatic rise in the
      community, and the Census has provided the strong focus we've
      needed," said Martin Ornelas-Quintero, executive director of the
      National Latina/o Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Organization
      (LLEGÓ), the nation's largest and oldest gay Latino civil rights
      "Now it is our job to make people focus on the Census and
      respond to it," he said.
      The importance of the Census results on the future of Latinos –
      including gay Latinos – should not be underestimated, Ornelas-
      Quintero said.
      "It's a way for us to be able to build our political clout and
      in a real way improve the day to day lives of those in our
      community," he said.
      While the federal government officially counts Hispanics,
      putting a number on gay Hispanics is not nearly as simple, according
      to Ornelas-Quintero. The group does not try to estimate the gay
      Latino population in the U.S., but when pushed, he said, the
      group "uses the same three to 10 percent of the population range
      everyone else uses."
      "In the GLBT community, how accurately does the Census capture
      gays and lesbians?" Ornelas-Quintero said. "The closet is real, but
      for us as Latinos we can make the reasonable conclusion that if the
      Latino community is the largest minority, the Latino GLBT community
      is the largest minority gay group."
      Gay Latinos share concerns with other gay civil rights
      organizations, like HIV/AIDS, hate crimes and bias and
      misrepresentation in the media, Latino activists across the country
      said. But they also are concerned about issues specific to their
      ethnic group, like immigration and support from mainstream gay civil
      rights organizations.
      "I think there are issues of convergence that a number of
      organizations and individuals can agree on," Ornelas-Quintero
      said. "It's like hate crimes – it's a top issue for mainstream GLBT
      groups, but it ranks lower down for Latino groups. Immigration is a
      top mainstream Latino issue, and for GLBT Latino groups, too. The
      point of convergence is the Permanent Partners Immigration Act."
      The legislation would modify the federal Immigration &
      Nationality Act to provide same-sex partners of U.S. citizens the
      same immigration rights currently awarded to legal spouses of U.S.
      citizens. It would expand the federal definition of family to
      include permanent partners.
      The growth of a movement
      Most activists agree that the current gay Latino movement
      began to take form in the mid-1970s in San Francisco when Rodrigo
      Reyes formed the Gay & Lesbian Latino Alliance (GALLA). When Reyes
      died of AIDS in 1992, the movement temporarily faltered, but several
      satellite groups sprang up around the country in the mid-to-late
      While LLEGÓ remains the only national group for gay Hispanics,
      it is far from the only organization focusing on gay Latino
      interests. States with large Latino populations like California, New
      York and Texas are home to smaller groups.
      Many states have at least one gay Latino service organization,
      according to resource guides maintained by qvMagazine and
      Tentaciones, two of the leading gay Latino magazines in the U.S.
      Mano y Mano, a coalition of New York Latino gay organizations,
      is an example of the size and focus of gay Latino groups today.
      Founded in 1997, the group gets its focus and a large amount
      of its strength from HIV/AIDS funding. Based out of the Latino
      Commission on AIDS office, the group is currently fighting two
      fronts, according to Director Andres Duque.
      The Somos Project seeks to combat homophobia among Latinos,
      while the Capacity Building Project provides grants to smaller gay
      Hispanic organizations in New York, he said. The group also
      maintains active e-mail lists and monitors media outlets, similar to
      other gay Latino organizations.
      LLEGÓ raises the profile of gay Latinos as a whole, but it is
      difficult for a national organization to speak for the diversity that
      defines individual gay Latinos, Duque said.
      "While we support and celebrate the incredible diversity and
      number of Latino gay organizations that exist just in New York and
      see strength in having these organization do collaborative and
      individual work, mainstream organizations often interpret this as
      weakness and get confused when they cannot identify one person or
      institution that can act as a spokesperson for the whole," he said.
      Duque does not eschew partnerships with more mainstream
      groups – Mano a Mano has partnered with the Gay & Lesbian Alliance
      Against Defamation, a media watchdog group – but lack of outside
      recognition does not preclude "doing our own work our way," he said.
      But that confusion among mainstream groups can impact
      fundraising, Duque said.
      While LLEGÓ boasts a $2.8 million budget, most of the smaller
      gay Latino groups operate on much less, according to activists.
      Focus on Latino issues?
      Lack of attention to Latino issues by mainstream gay
      organizations helped motivate the founding of some gay Latino groups,
      said Martha Duffer, executive director of ALLGO, a gay Latino group
      in Austin, Texas.
      "Mainstream gay groups are not interested in working with
      people of color beyond tokenism, particularly when it brings in
      economic and other social justice issues, which they tend to
      mistakenly believe to be unrelated to their focus," Duffer said.
      "Similarly, mainstream Latino groups are hesitant to
      compromise their 'causes' by visibly aligning with GLBT Latinos/as
      due to fear of alienating some of their supporters," she said.
      But that appears to be changing as groups like the Human
      Rights Campaign, GLAAD and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force
      point to recent outreach efforts to gay Hispanics.
      Officials with GLAAD attended the 2002 Latin Pride Festival in
      Los Angeles and held it's first Latino Media Symposium focusing on
      gay coverage, according to Mónica Taher, GLAAD's western regional
      media manager.
      The Washington, D.C.-based HRC, the nation's largest gay civil
      rights group, reached out to Latinos last year, according to Donna
      Payne, HRC's constituent field organizer.
      HRC partnered with LLEGÓ for the last five years and sponsored
      two Latin Pride celebrations in 2002, Payne said. HRC also lobbies
      members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on gay issues.
      Mainstream Latino civil rights groups also appear to be
      warming to gay issues, activists said.
      The National Council of La Raza, the largest and oldest
      national Latino civil rights organization in the U.S., drew fire last
      year when an official said the group does not "condone Latinos that
      are lesbian or gay."
      The statement prompted a public conflict with LLEGÓ, which
      demanded a public apology. La Raza officials later characterized the
      statement and its ensuing controversy as a misunderstanding.
      "La Raza has very strong ties to GLBT issues," said Lisa
      Navarrette, public relations director for the organization. "We have
      supported ENDA and hate crimes legislation from the beginning, and we
      were the first Latino civil rights group to become involved in the
      fight against HIV and AIDS in the mid-1980s.
      "There is absolutely nothing anti-gay about the organization,"
      Navarrette said.
      LLEGÓ representatives agreed with La Raza's assessment of the
      La Raza promotes gay issues, but not all Latino families are
      as accepting.
      "Gay activity is more accepted as a pasttime among Latinos
      than Caucasians," said Carlos Munos, a gay activist in Dallas. "Many
      Latino mothers have a saying: "He got stung by a bug, and he'll be
      over it soon.
      "The only problem is if the 'gay activity' becomes permanent,"
      he said. "Then it's like many other ethnic communities, where all
      you hear is how you've shamed the family."
      In some Latino communities, gays still find the slur "jota,"
      hurled at them – the Spanish equivalent of dyke or faggot, activists
      Media images
      Some gay Latino activists decry perceptions of a low profile –
      "Invisible to whom? We've always been able to see each other,"
      Ornelas-Quintero said – but others point to poor portrayals of gay
      Hispanics in both gay publications and daily newspapers.
      In gay publications such as Out, Genre and the Advocate, as
      well as TV shows like Showtime's "Queer as Folk" and NBC's hit
      sitcom "Will & Grace," images are overwhelmingly white, according to
      GLAAD's Media Reference Guide.
      HBO's hit drama "The Sopranos" did go against the grain and
      showcase gay Latinos last year, but as drug dealers. "Will & Grace,"
      considered by some gay activists as the standard bearer for gay
      television shows, includes a Latino character, but she's a maid with
      ongoing immigration troubles.
      "When they are included in television shows that represent gay
      life, it is often by focusing on racial stereotypes or using them for
      humor which can affect self-esteem," said Loren Javier, cultural
      interest manager for GLAAD.
      "We are, however, seeing more recently positive representation
      of LGBT Latinos on television shows such as 'Resurrection Blvd.' and
      the 'George Lopez Show,' which hopefully is a sign that the media is
      starting to value our community's diversity," she said.
      Political muscle
      With increasing numbers and growing visibility, gay Latinos
      are flexing their political muscle.
      On Tuesday, gay Latinos held their first event on Capitol Hill
      when dozens of executives from health agencies that serve Latinos and
      gays met with members of Congress, according to Noemí Pérez, LLEGÓ's
      director of policy and public affairs.
      "We are stepping up our involvement on the Hill," said Pérez,
      who called the event a major success.
      Included in the session were gay Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.)
      and Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), as well as Reps. Linda Sanchez and Xavier
      Becerra, both Democrats from California, and Rep. Tom Udall (D-N.M.).
      Frank thanked LLEGÓ and other Latino gay advocates for
      opposing efforts to "drive a wedge" among Latinos over social issues
      like gay rights, according to Pérez.
      "It's important to know the role you play in preventing the
      right wing from breaking us apart," Frank said.
      This month LLEGÓ will host a workshop on lobbying legislators
      about gay Latino concerns, an important step, according to Ornelas-
      Other groups are finding different ways to take their first
      In Georgia, state Sen. Sam Zamarripa (D-Atlanta) became the
      first Latino in the General Assembly when he was elected last
      November in part through support from gay – and gay Latino – voters.
      While the long-time Latino activist is not gay, "I represent the most
      diverse district in the Southeast, including a large gay contingent."
      Representing the interests of gays and Latinos shouldn't be
      difficult, he said.
      "I represent civil rights and human rights, and both groups
      don't care who those rights are applied to because they've been
      discriminated against," he said.
      Some 100 gay Latinos formed the Latino Gay Community of
      Atlanta last June and one of its first organized events was
      campaigning for Zamarripa, according to member Rolando Santiago.
      With Zamarripa in office, Santiago hopes they have a friendly
      ear in state politics to hear their concerns, including HIV
      prevention efforts targeted to gay Latinos.
      "There's a lot of ignorance; it's a large problem," Santiago
      said through an interpreter.
      In 2000, Latinos represented 19 percent of new reported AIDS
      cases in the U.S., though they constituted less than 13 percent of
      the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control &
      The rate of AIDS per 100,000 Latinos was 22.5, compared to 6.6
      for whites and 58.1 for blacks.
      In Massachusetts, Sen. Jarrett Barrios turned two terms in the
      state House of Representatives in to a successful run for state
      Senate, becoming one of the few openly gay statewide elected Latino
      officials in history.
      He won the race "without my sexual orientation ever being an
      issue for me," he said.
      Being openly gay and Latino "absolutely" affects how Barrios
      represents his district, which includes portions of Cambridge and
      Boston, he said.
      "My commitment to civil rights, health care and other issues
      with impact people's lives, addressing people who are often
      forgotten, it's much more real for those two things," he said.
      Barrios was arrested for civil disobedience in September
      during a public demonstration for a janitor's union, and he recently
      introduced legislation calling for civil unions in Massachusetts.
      "I suspect there are people in my community who are troubled
      by my sexual orientation or some of the things that I have done," he
      said. "But they've never spoken to me about it."
      Gay Latinos in New York and elsewhere hope for gay and gay-
      friendly elected Latinos.
      "I feel very comfortable being a gay Latino in the health care
      field in New York," said Raul Plasencia of Bailey House in New York
      City. "I treat a large number of Latinos, and New York is
      traditionally very tolerant of gays, even if the Latino community
      sometimes is not."
      But in seeking out elected officials that "look like me" in
      statewide office, "there is no one like that," he said. "We still
      have a long way to go."
      • National Latina/o Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender
      Organization, 1420 K St. NW Suite 200, Washington, DC 20006; call:
      202-466-8240; fax: 202-466-8530; Web: www.llego.org
      • National Council of La Raza, 1111 19th St. NW #1000,
      Washington, DC 20036-3622; 202-785-1670; Web: www.nclr.org
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