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Latino Student Finds Safe Space at UCLA

To the reader: Justin is pseudonym because the subject of the article does not wish to reveal his real name.

Justin has to dress cute for whatever occasion; otherwise, he would need to go shopping. His clothing is a way of expressing himself. However, Justin has to be cautious about how he dresses in particular settings because he wants to protect his gay identity. Justin is only open about his sexual identity when he is here at UCLA, but when he is at home he goes back into the closet.

When Justin is at home, he puts on a different face because he does not feel ready to tell his parents about his sexuality. He grew up in a religious, conservative household with his family having strong feelings towards homosexuality. Justin has a hard time expressing himself to his family, and he only shares his secret with his closest friends from high school. Justin has been able to reveal his sexuality not only to his friends, but also share it with the UCLA community. UCLA is a safe space to him. He says, “I’m openly gay because I’m able to be openly gay. Nobody says anything about me being gay here. UCLA is mostly White and Asian and these racial groups are more open than the Latino community.”

Even though UCLA has made Justin feel more comfortable about his sexuality; he also has experiences that alter his racial identity. Most UCLA students assume that Justin is white, and he has accepted being white. He says, “I’m white because people [at UCLA] think I’m white by the way I talk and look, but I still perceive myself as Mexican.”  He does not bother to correct people on their assumptions, because racial identity does not really matter to him at UCLA. Justin does not know a lot of Latinos at UCLA as much as he does at home. His Latino identity has been a reason he keeps his sexuality a secret. He feels that all Latinos are homophobic so he chooses not to associate with other Latinos on campus. Justin says, “My Latino family has been openly homophobic so I’m wary about other Latinos believing in the same thing.”

It seems as though Justin is living two separate lives. In one world he is gay and in another he is “straight.” Claiming to be Mexican-Nicaraguan at home and among the Latina/o community lets him think about himself in another way. If not, his family and other Latinos would just perceive him as gay. He says, “In the Latino community [family included], I use the hyphenated Mexican-Nicaraguan label to identify myself. As for my sexuality, I am straight—or at least try to be.” At home, he puts sexuality aside and convinces his family that he is heterosexual, but at UCLA he is most comfortable expressing himself and sharing a part of him that he has not been able to do at home.

Although Justin’s family may not approve of his sexuality, he still plans to tell them one day. He says, “I am not going to hide who I am my whole life. I’m just waiting for the right time.”

The Struggle We All Share

I’m not your typical La Gente writer. I’m white, I don’t speak any Spanish other than what I’ve picked up by living in Southern California my whole life, and quite frankly, the issues that affect much of the Latino community are things that will never affect me in a deeply personal or direct way.

And yet, I realize that the success of your community’s fight for equality and respect is intrinsically linked with a community that is both part of yours and mine. As a gay person, I am fighting for equality and respect as well.

I first realized I was gay when I was 16. As a white middle-class teenager, I never had much that made me feel different. I got along with my parents as well as any teenager could, I did homework, and I was just trying to make it through high school alive. But when I fell in love with a girl, I came to terms with the fact that I was no longer the cookie-cutter girl I saw myself as, and like it or not, I was now tagged as an “other” in a way that I had never felt before.

My otherness began as a teenager, but for many people, they feel like an “other” their entire lives. It became clear to me that while my rights were threatened and stigmatized for the first time in my life, many people of different backgrounds had been fighting this battle long before me.

The gay community is one founded on diversity. It is a segment of every community, whether it is a religious, national, or ethnic community. So why does the queer community often neglect other groups, like the Latino community. We are inherently linked with them, not only because we both deal with oppression and political struggles, but more importantly, the very nature of the gay community is a part of the Latino community as well.

Unfortunately, the gay community does not do a good job of publicly proclaiming this intersectionality. Our gay right’s activists are predominantly white and wealthy (I’m looking at you, Neil Patrick Harris and Ellen DeGeneres), which leads to the pre-conceived notion that those are the only people who care about gay rights, or even more problematic, that only white people are queer.

Aside from celebrity representation, which is overwhelmingly white, male, and sassy, even the Equality California web site indicates that most people leading our fight for marriage equality and hate crime legislation lacks people of color, which is surprising in California, one of the most diverse states in the nation.

So many queer people proudly display their “No on Prop 8” bumper sticker on the back of their cars, but how many are fighting in favor of the DREAM Act, or simply becoming socially conscious of other identity issues that people face? If it is only white people fighting for the gay community, it makes it easy to ignore other minority’s concerns, because for white queer people, their only “minority” label is their sexuality.

For people that only deal with limited forms of oppression, it is easy to focus on just one issue, learn all about it  – and while not realizing, or even worse, choosing to ignore all other countless forms of discrimination that need to be tackled, and more importantly, how all forms of discrimination are connected.

Although there used to be a stigma against homosexuality in the predominantly Catholic Latino community, that stigma is quickly shattering. According to the Huffington Post, 59% of Latinos believe homosexuality should be accepted. Celebrities like Sofia Vergara and Naya Rivera have spoken out publicly (and in Rivera’s case, played a teen lesbian on Glee) in support of the gay community. Yet, there seems to be little reciprocation from the dominant White Gay Male sector of the gay rights movement.

It starts with making intersectionality the forefront of our movement. The fight for marriage equality and hate crime legislation does not happen in a bubble void of any other struggle, and to deny that is only going to hinder both the gay community and any other minority’s fight. That all people fighting for gay rights need to educate themselves about other institutionalized forms of oppression, even if those forms of oppression do not directly affect them.

I will never have to face the obstacles posed by skin color or citizenship that occurs from being part of an ethnic minority. But indirect oppression for some becomes oppression for us all. Regardless of what type of “other” we see ourselves as, it is important that the queer community interacts with, educates, and embraces the Latino community and all minority communities in order to advance all of our fights.

OutWrite is a multi-platform progressive news channel for plugged-in, passionate LGBTQ youth at the UCLA campus. Visit their website at outwritenewsmag.org

Mexico’s Gays Make Way

Five same-sex couples were recently married in Mexico City, reports Mexico’s La Opinión. The local state assembly had approved the marriages in December. The government also gave same-sex couples the right to adopt children legally.

While many activists consider this a major win for gay rights in Latin America, some standing in protest deemed the ceremonies as “horrible” and even “unconstitutional.”