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It's Hard To Tell La Familia You're Gay

Sep 14, 2012
Originally published on September 14, 2012 5:50 pm

Coming out to your family as gay or lesbian can be an excruciating experience, and it is no less so if you're part of a Latino family.

To make that conversation easier, Familia es Familia (Family is Family), a national public education campaign, launched a bilingual website and uses social media to, among other things, open the dialogue about accepting LGBT people in Latino families.

Catherine Pino, a Virginia-based communications consultant and co-creator of the Familia es Familia campaign, says those conversations can be difficult because Latinos care deeply about family relationships and don't want to risk offending anyone.

"There's a lot of young Latino LGBT people out there who are afraid to come out because of rejection from their churches, their families, their friends," Pino says.

Samantha Moreno, of Phoenix, has been with her girlfriend for nearly 12 years. In a video produced by Los Angeles-based multimedia group Cuentame, she says coming out to her family was a painful experience.

"It's going to be 12 years in August since my dad has even said a word to her," Moreno says. "Does that hurt? Yeah!"

More than 20 national Hispanic organizations have endorsed the campaign, but polls suggest that Latinos are no less tolerant to gays and lesbians than mainstream America. Overall, two-thirds of Latinos say they are OK with homosexuality.

But there are still deep divisions among Latinos over the question of homosexuality, says Luis Lugo, who directs the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life.

"There is a significant gap between first-generation and second-generation Latinos on this question," Lugo says, "in fact, about a 15-point gap, with second-generation Latinos being much more accepting of homosexuality in society than foreign-born Latinos."

Other polls show that even among Latino Catholics a strong majority support legal recognition of same-sex marriage. But the same cannot be said for Latino evangelicals, according to the Rev. Gabriel Salguero of New York, who directs the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, which promotes a traditional view of marriage.

"I do think at the same time we are not homophobic and we encourage civil discourse," Salguero says. "So I think conversation is never a bad thing if at the very least you give each other the dignity of listening to each other, even if at the end of the day you disagree."

The campaign wants Latinos' coming-out experiences to be more like the one Joshua Abeyta had with his mother, Diana.

Over dinner at Diana's house on a quiet suburban cul-de-sac in the San Francisco Bay Area, the two recall the car ride a few years ago when Joshua told his mother he was gay. Now in his 20s, Joshua, a political communications specialist, says it was hard just to start the conversation.

"But I just said 'Hey Mom, I have something to tell you: I'm gay,' " he says. "And she told me that, 'Yes, yes I know. I've known since you were 5. I love you. Your father loves you. And we don't have a problem with it.' "

What Diana remembers is how nervous Josh was. "And I remember thinking: It's about time," she says.

Pino says the Familia es Familia campaign isn't only about trying to change attitudes within the Latino community but also about broadening the awareness of existing LGBT groups.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It can be one an excruciating experience for someone to tell their family that they are gay or lesbian, perhaps especially so in a Latino family. Now there's a new public education campaign to help families have that conversation and to raise the visibility of LGBT Latinos. NPR's Richard Gonzales has that story.

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: Diana Abeyta lives on a quiet suburban cul-de-sac in the San Francisco Bay Area. She's a professional caterer, and she likes preparing a real spread for her visiting son, Joshua.

DIANA ABEYTA: You have lamb shanks that have been roasted with vegetables with a wine sauce.

GONZALES: Joshua is a 20-something political communications specialist. He and his mother enjoy re-telling the story of a car ride they took just a few years ago.

JOSUA ABEYTA: You know, how do you start a conversation like this? But I just, you know, said: Hey mom, I have something to tell you. I'm gay. And she told me that, you know, yes, yes, I know.

(LAUGHTER)

ABEYTA: I've known since you were five. I love you. Your father loves you. And we don't have a problem with it.

GONZALES: What Diana remembers is how nervous Josh was.

ABEYTA: I think you actually said: So you know I'm gay, right? And I remember thinking it's about time.

GONZALES: For the Abeytas, having their son come out wasn't a big deal, but activists worry that for other gay and lesbian Latinos, their families aren't even ready for that conversation.

CATHERINE PINO: You know there's a lot of young Latino LGBT people out there that are afraid to come out because of rejection from their churches, from their families, from their friends.

GONZALES: Catherine Pino, a Virginia based communications consultant, is the co-creator of a public education campaign called Familia Es Familia, or Family is Family. It has a bilingual website and uses social media to, among other things, open the conversation about accepting LGBT people in Latino families.

PINO: So, you know, it may be difficult to discuss because Latinos care deeply about family relationships and they don't want to risk offending anyone.

GONZALES: Just listen to Samantha Moreno of Phoenix.

SAMANTHA MORENO: You know, I'm going to be with my girlfriend for 12 years in August.

GONZALES: Moreno is speaking in a video produced by a Los Angeles based multimedia group called Cuentame.

MORENO: It's going to be 12 years in August since my dad has even said a word to her. Does that hurt? Yeah.

GONZALES: Moreno's painful story and others like it are linked to the Familia es Familia website. The campaign has been endorsed by more than 20 national Hispanic organizations. But is such a campaign necessary? Polls suggest that Latinos are far more tolerant than might be expected.

Luis Lugo directs the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life. He says Latino views are in line with mainstream opinion, with a two-to-one majority saying they're okay with homosexuality.

LUIS LUGO: There is a significant gap between first-generation and second-generation Latinos on this question, in fact about a 15-point gap, with second-generation Latinos being much more accepting of homosexuality in society than foreign-born Latinos.

GONZALES: Other polls show that even among Latino Catholics, a strong majority support legal recognition of same-sex marriage. But the same can't be said of Latino Evangelicals. The Reverend Gabriel Salguero of New York directs the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, which promotes a traditional view of marriage.

GABRIEL SALGUERO: But I do think that at the same time, we're not homophobic, and we encourage civil discourse. So I think conversation is never a bad thing if at the very least you give each other the dignity of listening to each other, even if at the end of the day you disagree.

GONZALES: Agree or not, Catherie Pino says the Familia Es Familia campaign isn't only about trying to change attitudes within the Latino community but also broadening the awareness of existing LGBT groups.

PINO: You know, demographics are changing, and when you look out into - when you think about LGBT organizations, you really think about, you know, a typical white LGBT guy, right, or person. And there are just so many other LGBT people of color in this country.

GONZALES: And Pino says, ultimately, the campaign is about telling a new generation of LGBT Latinos that they are not alone. Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.