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Hispanics and the Fight for LGBT Civil Rights: The Stonewall Riots: 40 Years Later, A Milestone Anniversary

“But,” Acosta continues, “it’s a Catch-22 situation because family isn’t always as helpful for older LGBTs. That’s why local and state resources are very important to the Hispanic LGBT community.” Looking to those resources, he believes, is easier for Hispanics—especially older LGBTs—when relatives don’t step in. “Dealing with a smaller community,” he explains, “is an easier step from the tradition of family.”

Still Fighting, Still Leading

Cruz and Acosta also acknowledge the need for increased sensitivity about LGBT issues within the Hispanic community. “Phobia comes out of ignorance, so we need to increase awareness and culturally create a space to hold more conversations about gay and lesbian issues,” Cruz says.

In recent years, those conversations have been furthered locally and nationally by Hispanic gay civil rights organizations such as LLEGÓ (National Latino/a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Organization), Unid@s (The National Latina/o Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Human Rights Organization), and the Unity Coalition/Coalición Unida.

LLEGÓ, which began in October 1987 during the march in Washington, D.C., for lesbian and gay rights, was dedicated to building a national network of lesbian and gay Hispanics to educate and sensitize the Latinos and non-Latinos on issues related to homophobia, sexism, and discrimination. Financial constraints forced the organization’s closure in 2004, but in 2007 Unid@s picked up where LLEGÓ left off in terms of advocacy and community outreach. The Unity Coalition/Coalición Unida, founded in 2002, provides LGBT advocacy and services nationwide.

Hispanic political leaders have also supported the movement. In 2004, in one of the most powerful assemblies of Hispanic leaders on the issue, U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-California) joined Reps. Charles A. Gonzalez (D-Texas) and Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Arizona), Unid@s, and several Hispanic human rights groups in rejecting any attempt to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. At a news conference on Capitol Hill, Becerra stated: “Someone is trying to say that ‘Yes, separate is equal.’... We will fight this because it is the right thing to do. The law demands that of us. Our own conscience demands that of us.

But Latinos are far from united. Strong opposition to equality remains, especially among Hispanic religious groups. As recently as May, Hispanic religious leaders held a rally outside New York Gov. David Paterson’s Manhattan office protesting his advocacy of gay marriage. Among the opponents were State Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. of the Bronx, Radio Visión Cristiana Internacional, and the New York Hispanic Clergy Organization.

Challenges Ahead

LGBT Hispanics 50 and older also face additional obstacles: workplace discrimination, hate crimes, financial/inheritance laws, and greater-than-average lack of health insurance.

Where can older LGBT Hispanics go for help when so few services are tailored or welcoming to them? Language and cultural barriers already keep many LGBT Latinos from using services for the general public. Then within their own culture, they face homophobia. In addition to the macho culture, says Cruz, homophobia is one of the main reasons many Hispanic older LGBT don’t seek services. “They need services where they can openly be who they are and don’t have to hide,” she says.

With so little known about the needs of older LGBT Hispanics, Cruz hopes research might provide more answers. “It’s hard to develop programs [and] to advocate funding and legislation without data.” 

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