Photos by Nour Al-Timimi at a community forum that Boyle Heights Beat hosted on LBTQ identity in Boyle Heights.

By Michelle Levander

“Love the sinner, hate the sin.”

If you are LGBTQ and Latino and living in Boyle Heights, chances are that you’ll hear this phrase – or feel the effects of this thinking – at many churches here.

At least that was the painful consensus during an intimate group discussion at a community forum that Boyle Heights Beat hosted last Tuesday at the Boyle Heights City Hall.

Catholics describe the widely used expression as a loose translation of a phrase in one of St. Augustine’s letters. But many LGBTQ people see it as intolerance for their community in the guise of acceptance.

It’s agonizing to be rejected by the religion at the heart of your faith and family and social life. That’s how Diego Sepulveda experienced it, he said last Tuesday, when he told friends that he was gay and saw friendships of many years vanish.

A woman spoke of her difficult search for a church that would accept her. She left two Catholic churches, disappointed, and finally found a welcome in a small storefront Baptist church far from home.

Rosa Manríquez led the small-group discussion on the intersection of faith, being LGBTQ and being Latino in Boyle Heights. She became involved with these issues, she said, after her two daughters told her they were lesbians. Manríquez, raised Roman Catholic, is now a leader in Call to Action, an advocacy group that has as its motto, “Inspire Catholics, Transform Church.”

Faith. Family acceptance. Pride. Homophobia and transphobia. Mental health. School climate and bullying. All were topics discussed and debated in a series of moving and sympathetic small-group conversations at the forum co-sponsored by Mi Centro LQBTQ Community Center, a project of the Latino Equity Alliance in Boyle Heights.

The Orlando tragedy was never far from anyone’s minds. Mi Centro youth volunteers set up an altar with a lighted candle and pictures of the victims, and Ari Gutierrez, co-chair of the Latino Equity Alliance, tearfully called for a moment of silence.

Close to 90 people participated in the forum, which was inspired by an article on the school climate for LGTQ youth by Alex Medina, a member of the Boyle Heights Beat news team and an incoming junior at the Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet.

Medina led the meeting, with translation provided by Lesly Juárez, a Boyle Heights Beat contributor. Youth reporters joined the discussions in each circle and reported back about insights and ideas for next steps.

“I am a youth reporter at the Boyle Heights Beat, and I recently wrote a story about the LGBTQ community here in Boyle Heights,” Medina said in his opening remarks. “I wrote this story because of all the issues that still remain surrounding the LGBTQ community. I myself am Latino and LGBTQ, so I felt that I could really relate to what I was writing and become more involved in order to let our community’s voice be heard.

“The LGBTQ community has come a long way. There’s no doubting that. We’ve faced much prejudice in the past.  In some ways things have gotten better, but we still face so much hate today.”

There were stories shared and declarations of principle exclaimed in the discussion circles. In addition, each group outlined practical solutions on where to go from here.

In one of the evening’s most moving moments, Medina’s mother, Candelaria Medina, gave an impassioned call to action to all present, especially the parents of LGBTQ children.

“God loves us because we are his children…and we are valiant people, despite what others may think,” she said, speaking in Spanish. “We must stop the prejudices that have ended so many brave lives. We have to help people who are living hidden and who are so afraid. And to the parents, I invite you to walk with our children.”

The gathering had a moment of tension when a young transgender woman spoke forcefully, saying she wanted police officers that were present to leave immediately. Police have often oppressed and abused LGBTQ community members, she asserted.

The three officers at the gathering, members of LGBTQ and Latino community liaison teams, remained silent after her comments. But Ricardo Zaldivar, founder and executive director of The Wall Las Memorias project, passionately challenged her remarks, reminding everyone of the substantial gains that have been made in LGBTQ relations with police. Others spoke at different points of life-changing policy advances, such as the legalization of gay marriage, that have opened up new possibilities for LGBTQ young people and their families.

Is the glass half empty or half full? On Tuesday night, it was brimming over with love and acceptance.

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