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Milestones in Gay History

In the past 50 years—particularly after the Stonewall riots—social, political, and cultural changes have improved the standing of LGBT people. Watch

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The Hispanic Struggle for LGBT Rights

Latino activists played a key role in the Stonewall Riots of 1969, but their fight for equality goes on.

stonewall veterans

First gay rights parade after the Stonewall Riots. — Photo by: Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images

Acosta’s life experience reflects Cruz’s assertions.

As a gay person, he remembered, "I was told by the church, ‘You will go to hell.’" Family said I should get married and live a traditional life. I completely understand why older LGBTs don’t like to be seen as gay. LGBT seniors don’t look for help as much. It’s ingrained training that tells you to depend on your family.

"But," Acosta continued, "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 explained, is easier for Hispanics—especially older LGBTs—when relatives don’t step in. Dealing locally—with a smaller community that is closer to a family in size than a faceless bureaucracy—"is an easier step from the tradition of family," he said.

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 said.

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

LLEGO, which began in October 1987 during the national march on 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 Latino and non-Latino communities on issues related to homophobia, sexism, and discrimination. The organization closed in 2004 due to financial constraints. In 2007, Unid@s was created to pick up where LLEGO left off in terms of advocacy and community outreach. The Unity Coalition/Coalición Unida was founded in 2002 and is still operating.

The gay-rights movement has also been supported by Hispanic political leaders. In 2004, in one of the most powerful assemblies of Hispanic leaders on the issue, U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) joined Reps. Charles A. Gonzalez (D-Texas) and Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), 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. As recently as May, Hispanic religious leaders held an anti-gay-marriage 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.

Next: The challenges ahead. >>

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