Work in Progress
Latino LGBT Networks Emerge
GLAAD Spanish Language Media Department
GLAAD’s Spanish-Language Media Team serves as a resource to Spanish and English-language Latino media outlets to ensure fair, accurate and inclusive representations of LGBT people.
The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network
GLSEN champions safe and affirming schools for all students. Each year, GLSEN programs and resources reach tens of thousands of K-12 schools across the United States, largely through their network of chapters working in their local communities.
A national nonprofit organization committed to achieving
full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.
Latino Equality Alliance / Alianza Latina por la Igualdad
Mission is to promote liberty, equality, and justice for the Latina/o lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, with a strong focus on family acceptance, LGBT equality, and immigration reform.
Latino GLBT History Project
A non-profit volunteer-led organization founded in April 2000 with a mission to investigate, collect, preserve and educate the public about the history, culture, heritage, arts, social and rich contributions of the Latino GLBT community in metropolitan Washington, D.C.
An organization form by Trans Latin@ leaders who came together in 2009 to organize and advocate for the needs of Trans Latin@s who are immigrants and reside in the US.
Union = Fuerza Latino Institute
Since 2012, convenes a fully bilingual and culturally
competent national LGBT Latino day-long convening for 250 LGBTQ Latinos from over 25 states and 40 organizations during the Creating Change Conference to foster supportive relationships and build our capacity to advance LGBT Latino activism.
Thanks to David M. Pérez, Director of Development, League of United Latin American Citizens,
for assistance in compiling this partial list.
In October 2015, a video called “The Truth About Being A Gay Latino” by Flama’s Gabe Gonzalez made the rounds, noting that it “can place you at the intersection of some bizarre cultural phenomena.”
This is a major understatement. But fast forward to June 12, 2016 when a gunman killed 49 people inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando Florida during their weekly “Upscale Latin Saturday” theme night. And then to the next day’s news coverage, which the mainstream media flubbed by initially failing to mention that more than 90 percent of the victims were Latino.
Speaking at a post-attack panel discussion in Washington DC, Dan Guerrero, an acclaimed director, producer and community activist who has performed his autobiographical show “Gaytino!” across the country, noted, “The Latino and the gay communities have both come a long way, but in so many ways when you venture out of the major cities, it’s like the 1950’s out there. We’re still something foreign and different.”
This even though the Latino Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender(LGBT) community can boast that its political roots go all the way back to 1961 – preceding gay icon Harvey Milk – when José Julio Sarria ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Sarria had been active in fighting against police raids and harassment and, in the early ‘60s, helped found the League for Civil Education, which provided support for gay men arrested in raids. He is noted by LGBT historians as one of the first openly LGBT people in the world to run for political office. Although he lost, he received 6,000 votes and showed the potential
for political power from a unified LGBT community.
Today, though parts of the straight HIspanic and non-Hispanic communities might still think LGBT Hispanics are new and different, The Williams Institute estimates, based on 2010 Census data, that 4.3 percent of Hispanic adults (about 1,419,200) identify as LGBT. And that number is sure to be revised upward considering recent political and civil rights triumphs – such as the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the legalization of same-sex marriage in June of 2015 – and the expected post-Orlando spate of Latinos coming out to their families.
For high-profile, long-time Latino participants in the fight for equality, the emergence of Latino LGBTs as a valued constituency and power base in the broader LGBT community has been a continuing, and successful, work in progress.
“I do think that from the Latino perspective this national voice for Latino gay rights has been missing since the organization called LLEGO was in existence in DC,” said Roy Cosme president of New York-based Arcos Communications and a former member of LLEGO, a National Latino/a Lesbian and Gay Organization. “But, the national, general gay rights organizations have done a good job partnering with the national Latino civil rights organizations and with the network of local and regional Latino gay rights organizations because they knew they needed Latino support for their policies.
“I have to credit the big organizations like NCLR, LULAC and NALEO,” Cosme continued. “I think one of the beautiful things that happened is that they took up the issues that are important to LGBTs and as a result have integrated those issues into the general conversation and accepted gay rights as a community issue – and not as a ‘gay community’ issue.”
The challenge, Cosme said, of not having one main Latino LGBT advocacy organization is the risk of general LGBT organizations not including Latinos fully in their planning and mission. “There might be some things in a comprehensive approach that if you don’t look at it through a Latino lens, you kind of miss things and then when the Latino community is allowed to jump on the bandwagon, we’re an afterthought. We tend to come late to the party, so I think that’s one of the downfalls.”
In the weeks after the Orlando attacks, Hispanic LGBT people complained on social media and in blog comments that they had to contend with a barrage of people remarking, “You can’t be gay, you’re Latino!” Not being a higher-visibility part of either the wider Hispanic community or the national LGBT cultural presence is a source of unease for those who are less sunny in their estimation of the degree of advocacy and acceptance Latino LGBTs have found both before and after the Orlando massacre.
“A lot of folks from our queer Latino, Latina, Latinx communities aren’t always part of the media and not having us there really affects the dialogue,” said Veronica Bayetti Flores, an LGBT Venezolana freelance writer and host of Radio Menea, commenting on the Latino political podcast, In The Thick. “But I think it’s also taking a cue from our movements for civil rights and liberties – the reason that there’s a Latino night at a gay club is because there’s a lot of racism in LGBTQ communities it’s not a coincidence and I think that both mainstream movements for LGBTQ liberation and Latino civil rights civil rights organizations have failed us.”
“I think both Latino civil rights organizations and mainstream LGBT movements could do a better job of thinking about what the consequences are for LGBT folks that are Latinos,” Bayetti Flores continued. “We have folks talking about immigration that don’t know anything about the ways that queer, trans and gender non-conforming people experience detention about things like solitary confinement about things like being denied HIV medications about being placed in confinement with people that are not safe to you it’s a failure of mainstream Latino and LGBT movements to not see what the consequences of our intersectional live are and what the policy priorities of our lives are.”
But things are moving – even if far too slowly for the magnitude of the need – in the right direction. Corporations have made diversity and inclusion programs the cornerstones of their corporate social responsibility, recruitment strategies and in some instances their business cases, targeting both Latinos and LGBT, among other minorities. Latino community organizations will undoubtedly be taking their cue from the respective constituencies about how they address the intersecting needs of Latino LGBTs and, politically, organizations such as the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and Institute have already been working hard to get Latino LGBTs elected to office.
According to Martine Apodaca, VP Political/Communications for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and Institute, approximately 49 of the 469 current openly LGBT elected officials in the U.S. are Latino. The Victory Fund hopes to quadruple the number of LGBT incumbents in office by 2016 and of the 114 candidates they have endorsed in 2016 so far, 11 of them are Latino.
“Of course, we expect to endorse many more, and have our eye on several races with Latino candidates, so this number will change,” Apodaca said. “There is energy because of Trump. But also where [Latino LGBT candidates] are running and the constituencies they are running for, it’s an inherent advantage. From our perspective, we’re looking for the most qualified people, we don’t endorse candidates simply because they are LGBT or Latino.”
Additionally, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and Institute trains the next generation of LGBT leadership. “A lot of people who are interested in these leadership positions have never run for public office so we are training a lot of grassroots people and hopefully they, and voters, will go to the polls,” added Apodaca.
Ultimately, the future of Latino LGBTs’ equal engagement in America’s civic, political, corporate and cultural arenas will rest on the ability of networks and partnerships to move forward across several points of importance for the population.
“Right now it’s a combination of effort between three clear national groups or coalitions and a number of organizations at the regional, state and local, plus the many LGBT Latino/a leaders in various organizations in the corporate, public, and private sectors who are influencers,” said David M. Pérez, Director of Development for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and a founding co-chair of the Unión = Fuerza Latino Institute, a convening organization for Latino LGBT groups.“There are so many organizations in the national Latino landscape and each of those bring something different to the table. For instance we have groups focused strictly on Trans Latina immigrants, connecting them to health and human services, we have groups working on transgender immigration detention and on family acceptance issues.
“What’s still missing is more investment to continue to create spaces for LGBT organizations to convene and strategize and build capacity. For that we need support in the form of national and regional investments to ensure continued growth, but there’s more improvement in visibility as each year goes by,” said Perez. “Nationally, Latino LGBTS are increasingly very involved on the boards and leadership of the larger LGBT organizations and it goes a long way toward making sure Latinos and queer Latinos are invited to national LGBT rallies, are represented in Spanish language media and are involved in activities that increase visibility and grow partnerships.”
As terrifying as the Orlando attacks were on the Latino LGBT community, it provided a needed, if sorrowful, catalyst and opportunity to stake a rightful claim in the past, present and future of the broader LGBT movement. It will inspire countless conversations and coming-out conversations that can ultimately make the community stronger.
“When I talk to activists who were really doing queer Latino advocacy in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, the biggest difference they remark upon is that they didn’t have access to the kind of human capital they have now,” said Perez. “Today there are Latinos in leadership positions that can collectively support each other and connect each other with resources and there’s so much potential in the area of politics, corporate and the movement itself.”
Cosme agreed on what the future holds for Latino LGBTs: “I still think that countering the stigma of the gay community is a big issue within the Latino community. You still have to start there, because that level of acceptance within our Latino families is what I think will address the quality of life for our Latino youth.”
Though same-sex unions have been recognized in parts of Central and South America since 2008 (Ecuador started a trend that spread to Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and Colombia), LGBT acceptance in U.S. Hispanic communities is still low.
“Probably because a lot of these progressive policy developments have happened within the last 15 years, the parents missed those developments,” said Cosme. “They weren’t that ahead of us but the right-wing movement in the U.S. has been a big reason for the slowness of our progress here in the states. There has been very forceful right-wing counter-attack on the gay rights movement and that has had a tremendous effect on what was accomplished here. When you think of who’s most affected by this, it’s our Latino youth. We need to make sure they have a safe environment in which to grow to their full potential regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and there’s a lot involved in that.”
Esther J. Cepeda