Family and Coming Out Issues for Latinas and Latinos
In the United States, many Latina/o families are first- or second-generation immigrants, and keeping family relationships strong can be critical to an individual's identity. The possibility that lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender Latinas/os might lose that important support system by coming out to their family is daunting.
"When you have to learn a new language, a new culture, a new economy, you tend to stick with the people you know," said Gil Flores, former gay and lesbian services director at the John Thomas Gay & Lesbian Community Center in Dallas.
"I never thought about how my being gay would affect me," said Flores. This sometimes translates into allowing family loyalty to eclipse any desire for self-expression, honesty or personal fulfillment.
"It's difficult to think only of yourself when you are expected to put family and friends before your own needs, but fortunately, many of the families I work with also want their children to be happy and successful. And if that means accepting that a child is gay, so be it,” said Flores.
Accepting a gay family member, however, may take some time. Giving a relative the space to get familiar with the concept is essential.
"Being honest with your family is an important step in getting all parts of your life to fit together, but it's also very important to give them time to process the information," said Nila Marrone, a New York member of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, PFLAG.
Additionally, many hesitate to come out because they don't want to discredit their family name. When one family member succeeds, it often reflects positively on the entire family. Many Latina/o families also believe the opposite to be true, and because there is bias against gays, that silences some LGBT Latinas/os, as well as relatives who might otherwise be supportive.
"At first, my parents didn't comprehend why I had to be the one queer Chicano to represent my community," said Tony Alvarado-Rivera, who serves on the board of directors for Unidos. "But for me, this is where I am, so this is what I need to speak out on."
While many non-Latina/o LGBT people first come out to only one or two family members, the close proximity of many typical Latina/o families often makes that option difficult. One thing that can be useful is taking advantage of organizations, such as PFLAG.
"Since Latino families deal with and solve most of their own problems, there is little incentive or tradition to form or join support groups. But this is an important part of the Anglo culture that we Latinos would benefit by emulating," suggested Marrone. "Parents will find that people who have LGBT children will understand and help them through the hardest times. When parents educate friends and neighbors, they become an advocate for their child's right to equality."
Some of the more than 500 PFLAG chapters across the United States have Latina/o outreach programs. Those that don't can still provide a key network of support and important resources. Before you come out to your family, it's a good idea to know where the nearest chapter is and have a copy of the PFLAG publication "Nuestra Hijas y Nuestro Hijos" (Our Daughters & Sons) for your parents to read.
PFLAG has also established a Families of Color Network, which strives to keep families united, addresses issues of institutionalized racism and works to break down barriers of sexual orientation and gender identity within communities of color. Local LGBT community centers may also have Latina/o-specific support groups, which can be crucial for an independent culture that sometimes shuns outside help.