A look at today's Latino community and perhaps a changing tolerance towards its gay members. Gay acceptance on the increase among Latinos
It wasn't easy for Cuban-born Lourdes Rodríguez-Nogués to admit her homosexuality to herself and the world. She was a good, Catholic girl in the traditional sense that studied in the best religious schools of Puerto Rico. But in 1977, once she moved to Boston and finished her doctorate in counseling psychology, she decided to "come out". "I'll be darn if I resign my faith just because I'm gay," says Rodríguez-Nogués of the conflicting emotions she felt when reconciling her Catholicism with her life as a lesbian.
That's when her involvement with "Dignity USA" started, and today she is the organization's first Latin president. The program, started by a priest in San Diego to give gay Catholics a place to meet and be surrounded by a supportive community, offers an open mass with communion during meetings. Masses are usually officiated by former priests who are now married to their gay partners. These religious meetings aim to be inclusive and progressive, and are open to homosexuals, bisexuals, as well as transgender individuals. The organization offers an alternative to traditional thinking by showing that people can be gay and catholic, something that appealed to Rodríguez-Nogués.
Gay acceptance increases among Latinos
A 2011 study by the National Council of La Raza found that 54% of US Latinos are in favor of legalizing gay marriage. These numbers were met with surprise by the general media given the strong religious faith and cultural machismo found in the Hispanic community, but for Rodríguez-Nogués these statistics seemed right. "The person sitting at the pew may feel different [than the church] because they may have a family member or neighbor who is gay. Our tradition is not to exclude people from the family," says the Dignity USA president, whose own familia is now more accepting of her and her partner. "We now celebrate Christmas together, get gifts as a couple and were both included in our last family portrait, but my parents still do not use the word [gay]."
GLAAD's Director of Spanish Language Media, Monica Trasandes, agrees with Rodríguez-Nogués. She's found that Latinos are becoming more accepting and open to gays, a phenomenon that she believes evolves naturally from the high value placed on family at the heart of the Hispanic community. "Latinos don't throw family out, and they don't like to discriminate. They have a natural understanding of what it is like to be discriminated against," says Trasandes who is seeing more gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals coming out to their families.
Tolerance is trending
Trasandes feels very confident that acceptance of gay family members will continue to be a trend in the Latin community and that knowledge about their lifestyle will dissipate fears and help correct stereotypes. She suggests parents and other family members visit sites like pflag.org and familiasporladiversidad.org for more information and better understanding. Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays or Pflag is a national grassroots organization with more than 500 chapters around the country offering support groups and information to families in the United States. Familias por la diversidad, an organization with a more Latin American scope, offers Spanish resources (i.e. a brochure on how to "come out" to your parents), as well as organizes meetings where families can come together, learn more about their gay family members and express their support for diversity.
While the numbers confirm her belief in increased Hispanic support of the gay community and legalization of same-sex marriage, Rodríguez-Nogués remains critical of the practices of the Catholic Church. "They have placed catholic families in the position of who do I betray-the church or my child. They are entre la espada y la pared [or between a rock and a hard place]. It's because I'm catholic that I'm pro gay, [a stand that's] much more consonant with gospel values."