This post was originally published on May 2, 2014. We decided to publish today in light of Friday’s Supreme Court ruling that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry nationwide.
When asked about his decision to come out at age 14, Antonio “Rooster” Cabrera, now 21, says the suicide of a gay friend is what pushed him to be open with friends and family.
“I saw guys and women differently, and in my head, I thought I was the only one,” said Cabrera in a low voice and with averted gaze, choking up at the thought of his old friend.
“My best friend passing away made me want to liberate myself in a difference sense so I wouldn’t feel so lonely.”
Cabrera, a tall, slim young man, describes a sense of relief after he came out, like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. For him, it was one less thing to worry about.
Although being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) has become more socially acceptable in some communities, coming out continues to be difficult for many. In Latino communities, where culture and tradition play a big role in family life, young LGBT people are often left seeking support outside their families, where they can be open about their identities and understood.
Cabrera grew up in a Catholic household, attending church on Sundays with his family. One of his biggest fears was coming out to his devout grandmother, because he knew homosexuality was considered a sin by the church.
An undocumented immigrant from Sinaloa, Mexico, Cabrera is among the 49 percent of Latinos living in the United States who identify as Catholic.
Last July, Pope Francis made a statement that differed from traditional Catholic doctrine, stating, ““If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
Yet many Catholics still reject homosexuality.
“When [my grandmother] told the church, they told her to hate me,” said Cabrera.
“Are you sure?”
However, other family members were more accepting. “My mom was very calm, and said ‘Ay mijo, are you sure?’ and told me to go clean my room.”
“I got emotional, but it gave me joy that he was able to trust me and tell me that he was gay,” said Cabrera’s mother, Adriana Cabrera. “He is my son, and I love him and accept him for who he is.”
Though Cabrera had a support system at home, not all are as lucky.
Victoria Ortega, 34, a male-to-female transgender woman, came out about her gender identity and transition in her early teens. Ortega says religion didn’t play a major role in her household, but gender roles did, especially because of her father’s machismo.
Gender roles can be hard to break in Latino homes. “I was the only born male, so for my father it was more of a let down,” she said. Though it was difficult for her mother, she was more understanding. “She gave me gender-neutral gifts while I was transitioning.”
Ortega grew up in the Wyvernwood Garden Apartments. After graduating from Roosevelt High School, she began taking hormones to transition and gain physical female attributes.
Ortega’s parents threatened to kick her out of the house, but finding other places to stay wasn’t easy. She struggled to find a shelter where she would be accepted as a transgender woman.
Having firsthand experience of the effect of struggling to find programs that would offer services to transgender persons, Ortega was inspired to begin volunteering at local LGBT shelters to raise awareness for other trans youth.
Now the community organizing director at Clinica MonsenÃµr Oscar A. Romero, Ortega is still devoted to promoting equality for LGBT individuals, with an emphasis on the T.
This year, she organized the first PFLAG group in Boyle Heights. PFLAG stands for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbian and Gays. It provides opportunities to educate and speak about the challenges LGBT individuals and their families face.
Ortega isn’t alone in her efforts. Mentorship programs, poetry readings and open mic events, theater festivals and forums have recently sparked more awareness in the Boyle Heights community.
Marlene Arazo, 18, a senior at LA Causa Youthbuild Charter High School, says she found a safe space where she could be herself at Legacy LA, a youth development non profit in her community of Ramona Gardens.
Arazo, who describes herself as pansexual–a person who is attracted to someone regardless of his or her sexual identity–was 16 when she came out to her mother.
“It was very hard at first,” said Arazo, who remembers her mother passing her confession off as a phase. “I went into my room and couldn’t stop crying.”
But with support from her mentors at Legacy LA, she became more comfortable with herself.
As part of the Rainbow Alliance at Legacy LA, a club that focuses on the concerns of LGBT youth, Arazo discusses issues like bullying and lack of family support, as well as ways to overcome them.
“It’s all about trying to make a safe space here,” said Arazo.
This is the approach Ari Gutierrez, co-chair of the Latino Equality Alliance (LEA), has been pushing. “In LA, communities of color are geographically separated from gay and lesbian centers,” she says, explaining the need “to be able to be who we are, where we are.”
Last year, LEA partnered with a group of organizations to host the first-ever LGBT forum in Boyle Heights, which included workshops for parents, families and friends of LGBT people.
With a grant from The California Endowment, which also provides support to Boyle Heights Beat, LEA is now developing youth councils at Boyle Heights schools and has given presentations at local Parent Teacher Associations.
“We wanted to be able to address the issue community-wide,” said Gutierrez. “If you’re going to [educate] youth, you’ve got to include parents.”
Latino Equality Alliance
The Wall Las Memorias
BIENESTAR Human Services
Legacy LA- Rainbow Alliance
Corazon Del Pueblo
Youth Pride Inc.
Out 2 Enroll