Latino gays and lesbians must balance acculturating into LGBT community with valuing and respecting their ethnic heritage
As I sit and ponder the theme of this year’s parade Pride Not Prejudice I can’t help but wonder how many will simply embrace the theme of being proud of being gay and doing away with prejudice directed at us from straight society, and how many will see it in broader terms, including the idea of “Pride Not Prejudice” within the various cultures that make up our LGBT community.
Occasionally I am asked if prejudice and discrimination among the white LGBT community exists toward the Latino LGBT community. My response has always been, “It depends on who you ask.”
Second and third generation gay Latinos that were born here, educated here and have become acculturated into the main culture, both straight and gay, may not see this as a problem, while those that don’t fit this description may present with a different experience.
On a personal level, being a double minority Latino and gay has allowed me to recognize and understand that prejudice, discrimination and racism don’t always present themselves with a face you can clearly see. Sometimes it’s subtle through omission, neglect or non inclusion.
Sometimes it’s hidden in the stated and unstated policies, procedures and practices of a particular institution, organization or business. Sometimes it’s about the dominant culture not providing or allowing access for minorities to the decision making process.
It cannot be argued that those with power have more choices than those with less power. The powerful can choose to ignore or simply pay lip service to the less powerful. Many gay enculturated Latinos I know may argue that they have not experienced prejudice and discrimination from the white LGBT community on a personal level but would wholeheartedly agree that sometimes all we seem to get is lip service.
By its very nature, this, too, can be said to contain aspects of prejudice and discrimination. There is a belief within the white dominant culture in the United States, both gay and straight, that everyone aspires to be like whites. That is to say, nonwhites all want to share the same attitudes, beliefs, expectations and values as whites do.
Minorities are tolerated and accepted as long they “think and act” like the dominant white culture. We are accepted as long as we conform to the dominant cultural pattern. The assumption is that anyone with ambition, with the right kind of look and with the right kind of work ethic can attain the privileges of the dominant culture. Those that don’t are considered lazy and inferior or flawed in some way.
In my opinion, this kind of thinking is flawed in every way! Contrary to popular belief among the dominant culture, not everyone aspires to be like whites. This type of thinking also does not acknowledge or take into consideration the numerous barriers that minorities sometimes have to overcome because of discriminatory practices created by the dominant culture.
Even those that do “make it” can find themselves marginalized and not invited to the table.
Many minority groups, including LGBT Latinos, want to maintain their cultural identities while remaining a part of the dominant culture. The difficulty is that adaptation to mainstream gay and straight American society demands modification of and occasionally even abandonment of our own cultural identities and cherished customs.
Many of us, including those of us that are enculturated and/or well assimilated, are unwilling to sell out. We can be a part of the dominant culture without having to give up our own cultural identity. I believe that an enlightened democratic society should allow for and embrace the actualization of the cultural identity of all its groups.
Local long time gay Latino activist Jesus Chairez, in an editorial piece he wrote for the Dallas Voice after the immigration mega march, wrote about gay Latinos he knows “clutching their pearls” when they saw him coming their way for fear of being outed to straight family members they attended the march with. This brings up another issue altogether: How can closeted LGBT Latinos expect acceptance and inclusion within their own culture and from the dominant gay white culture if they are uncomfortable in their own gay and brown skin?
Sometimes the very familial and religious traditions we elect to hold on to do nothing more than continue to perpetrate the programmed and conditioned shame that is instilled in most of us because of who and what we are.
This year as you are out celebrating gay Pride, take time to consider that diversity is about establishing trust and respect by listening to those that are different from you, by making profound efforts to understand without judging and by trying to enter into a larger world view of others. It will go a long way toward promoting “Pride Not Prejudice” both within and outside our LGBT community.
Fernie Sanchez is president of Valiente, the LGBT Latino alliance in Dallas-Fort Worth.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, September 15, 2006.