Post Written by Valentina Forte-Hernandez
Note: In this blogpost Latin@ with an @ is used to be inclusive of all gender identities.
Take a moment to think of some of your favorite celebrities. Do you have a few in mind? Good, now take some time to think of your favorite queer, Latin@ celebrities. I’m not talking about inspirational activists, independent artists I’m talking about super stars. I’m talking about the people you see on billboards, in commercials, on the cover of magazines. It’s tough, right? The queer community and the Latino/a community are both individually underrepresented in popular culture. Queer and Latin@ representation is virtually non-existent in mainstream media. So what does it matter? Why do we need Latin@s represented in our media? LGBTQ Latin@ youth are suffering. They are being bullied, harassed and killed. Many of them have no adults in their lives they feel they can turn to, and almost all of them believe they must leave their current communities to live happy successful lives. Some people say that it is more difficult for LGBTQ Latin@s to come to terms with and be open about their sexuality because of the unique cultural values many Latino/a communities have. This idea ignores our societies’ responsibility to represent and support Latin@s, it blames Latino/a communities for their values and tells Latin@ youth that they must choose between being Latino/a and being queer. We should bring Latin@s into the spotlight to show our communities that we’re here, our identities are complex and valid. We deserve love and respect. We should be teaching Latino/a communities how to incorporate LGBTQ Latin@s into Latino/a culture, not telling them that their cultural values must be ignored.
The two main cultural values that are cited as being exclusive to LGBTQ Latin@s are religion and the importance of family. Religion has been used to oppress queer folks of all racial and ethnic identities. Using religion to deny the identities of queer Latin@s is making the assumption that being religious and being queer are mutually exclusive. A study of LGBTQ Latin@s called The Social Justice Sexuality Project shows that 60% of Latin@s look to their faith to provide meaning and purpose in their life, disproving that it is impossible to be both queer and religious. Religion is not a one size fits all suit, nobody practices their religion the exact same way as anyone else. The majority of Latino/as believe in Catholicism and though the Old Testament says that male homosexuality is a sin, there are quite a few sins that are punishable by death that have been ignored in the modern day including lying about one’s virginity, being a stubborn or and rebellious son and failing to pen a bull that is known to be dangerous and many more. Is it more important to follow every rule in the bible literally, or to follow the overall belief that God loves all of His children and we honor and love our neighbors and family? It is important to be respectful of religion and not to dismiss it as wrong or ignorant. Religion is an essential part of many peoples’ lives, however it should be recognized that religion is something that is learned and practiced while sexual identity is something we are born and live with. No one needs to abandon their religion to accept LGBTQ people, one just needs to realize that the importance of loving one another is a more valuable aspect of being religious than following the rules exactly as they were written thousands of years ago.
To say that valuing family excludes accepting LGBTQ Latin@s assumes that only “traditional” families are of value. Family love should be unconditional, and generally in Latino/a communities it is. The Social Justice Sexuality Project indicates that 52.9% of LGBTQ Latin@s feel supported by their families and another 29% feel somewhat supported. Another study of LQBTQ Latin@ youth indicates that 60% of Latin@ youth feels their family supports LGBTQ identities. Regardless of acceptance, less than half of LGBTQ Latin@ youth feel like they have an adult to turn to if they are sad or worried. If queer Latin@s were more present in the mainstream the general public would have more awareness about the needs of these young people and adults would be better prepared to help Latin@ youth confront issues that are specific to them. Family is extremely valuable in the Latino/a community and the love is there but the knowledge around LGBTQ Latin@s needs to expand.
LGBTQ Latin@s need their place in mainstream culture not only to improve their living conditions in their current communities, but also to expand the general knowledge of LGBTQ Latin@ issues. LGBTQ Latin@s are rarely the focus of LGBTQ and reproductive health advocacy, and almost never the focus of the general public. While LGBTQ Latin@s are fighting many of the same battles as other LGBTQ people, without focus or representation many issues specific to queer Latin@s go ignored. For instance immigration status has a huge effect on many Latin@s ability to access their reproductive rights and though immigration status may not seem to affect the entire queer community it must be addressed to serve the needs of a community as a whole. It is much more challenging for LGBTQ people to access all their healthcare needs than it is for heterosexual cisgender people. For LGBTQ immigrants, addressing all of their medical needs can be impossible. Currently, there is no way for a same-sex undocumented couple to be recognized at all. These are issues specific to queer Latin@ that cannot be ignored. Immigration reform is not something that can wait, it cannot be put to the side while other LGBTQ issues are dealt with in the spotlight.
The lack of queer Latin@s acknowledged by popular culture creates the illusion that these people do not exist. It denies Latin@ youth the role models they need and deserve. Having queer or Latina representation is not enough, queer and Latina folks must be represented and acknowledged by the mainstream media. Both Latino/a communities and the general public need to gain greater awareness and acceptance of LGBTQ Latin@s. If we had more (or any) positive queer Latin@s represented in popular culture maybe people would stop trying to make Latin@s have to pick and choose which parts of their identity to accept. Maybe the minority of parents of Latin@ youth who are unsupportive would have someone to look to and help them come to terms with their child’s identity and maybe Latin@s would be targeted less often by people who are afraid of difference. To say Latin@s need to be represented by mainstream media is not entirely accurate. We don’t need a queer Latin@ star to validate our identities but we deserve our place in popular culture. We don’t need a famous Latin@ to prove that we exist because we’re certainly here and we’re not going anywhere. The mainstream needs Latin@ representation because we’re not getting any less queer or any less Latina and everybody needs to get used to it. With or without a celebrity advocating for us we are entitled to our identities. We are here and there will be more of us. We’re also fabulous and anyone turning a blind eye to us is seriously missing out.
The Social Justice Sexuality Project
Latino Youth Report
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