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Religion and Coming Out Issues for Latinas and Latinos

More than two-thirds of Hispanics (68%) identify themselves as Roman Catholics, according to a 2007 survey by the Pew Hispanic Center and Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. The Catholic Church's position on homosexuality is based on a distinction between being lesbian or gay and acting on it, accepting the former while at the same time considering the latter to be wrong and sinful.

Often, however, that distinction becomes blurred and the message that many Catholics hear is that merely being gay is sinful. This results in condemnation of LGBT Latinas/os in communities of faith and has led some to remain closeted when involved in religious activities.

"A lot of gay and lesbian Latinas and Latinos are out in English but not in their Spanish-speaking church," said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity/USA, the largest national lay movement of LGBT Catholics, their families and friends. And while living an out and open life is powerful and important for LGBT people, there are some individuals who choose to be only partially out.

Other Latinas/os find their own path to spirituality that involves the Catholic faith but not necessarily all elements of it.

"I was raised as Catholic and both my parents are very Catholic," said Marisa Demeo, an out lesbian who is a former lawyer with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and is now a judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

"The main thing I had to do was to separate the institution from what I really believed the teachings really were. I am dedicated to my own faith without feeling I needed to follow some of the more conservative teachings of the Catholic Church," said Demeo. "You have to work out your relationship with religion. I feel comfortable with my religious beliefs and I feel they are compatible with my life as a member of the GLBT community."

There are also many priests, nuns and other religious leaders who work to reconcile the relationship between LGBT Catholics and their families and the church. Members of a congregation, gay and straight, can also play an important role in educating the rest of the church and advocating for the acceptance of LGBT Latinas/os.

"For ages, people have found a way to use religion and the Bible as an excuse to hate, ostracize and attack homosexuals," said Rogelio Z. Zepeda, a Mexican gay activist, formerly of The Wall - Las Memorias Project in Los Angeles. "I take that as a challenge to change misconceptions about gays and lesbians; a challenge to confront those who do not practice Christ's teachings to love one another, and a challenge to be true to myself and accept the love that God gives me."

Another important document, the 1986 Letter to the Catholic Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, stated: "The teachings of the church make it clear that the fundamental human rights of homosexual persons must be defended and that all of us must strive to eliminate any forms of injustice, oppression, or violence against them."

LGBT Latinas/os are able to use this message to help others realize the need for understanding and support. The letter, which was approved by Pope John Paul II, also states: "Respect for the God-given dignity of all persons means the recognition of human rights and responsibilities." While this document does not directly address Catholics who are Latina/o, it is an important message for those who are trying to reconcile their sexuality, their religion and their culture.

Of course, some LGBT Latinas/os also opt for less conservative faiths. Gay-affirming churches, such as the United Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, are appealing because many congregations purposely strive to be ethnically and racially inclusive.