When Ricky Martin first came out and admitted publicly that he was gay, people seemed to have a couple of interesting reactions: they either seemed to blow it off with a “is that a surprise?” attitude or they argued that “a person’s sexuality shouldn’t matter anyway.” While those two positions might have some validity to them, what many seemed to miss was the enormity of what Ricky Martin’s coming out meant to the acceptance of homosexuality in the Latino culture. For the first time ever, a major Latino star with mass cross-over appeal had come out and had put an uber-public face to being gay. Many gay Latinos immediately recognized the magnitude of the situation. In many ways, the President of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Jarrett Barrios had it right: Ricky Martin’s decision to come out represented a “game changer”; Barrios expressed during an interview he gave to PopEater that:
Ricky coming out is a game changer for many gay and transgender Latino children, who for too long have not had many out gay people to look up to. It’s also a game changer for their mothers, aunts and grandmothers, who were once teenage girls screaming at Menudo concerts. They now have a face to the word “gay” and know a father of two who just happens to also be gay. As more and more people get to know gay and transgender friends, neighbors, family members and celebrities, they come to know that our community wants the same things all people do: to be accepted, valued for our contributions and equal chance to raise our families and take care of our loved ones.
Being gay in Hispanic culture can be very difficult, but it is probably not much different from other cultures, as Ricky Martin pointed out during his interview with The View:
Yet, what most people continue to miss in all this is the larger dynamic of how the state of gay rights intersects strategically with an issue that is near and dear to Latinos: immigrants’ rights. There are many places where the two camps intersect, most visibly in story after story of gay and lesbian U.S. citizens that are married to or have a civil union with an undocumented Latino or Latina that is going through a deportation proceeding. There are many instances of such stories, the latest of which to be publicized is the story of a Brazilian man facing deportation even though he is married to a man that is a U.S. citizen.
Most people tend to not go beyond just the need for immigration reform that is inclusive of LGBTQ rights and thus miss deeper dynamics at play in how the two camps, immigrants and gay rights, sometimes function within silos that isolate them from one another at their own peril. There is no question that much education needs to happen among the Latino community regarding gay rights. Gays come in many colors and shapes, and for many individuals an issue does not exist in a silo but is rather compounded with others in real life situations like with the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy that prohibits gays to serve in the U.S. military. Just take the example of Omar Lopez, a sailor that was discharged from the U.S. Navy because of his sexuality; for him, the issue of being Latino and being gay are not mutually exclusive. Here he is telling his story in Spanish:
…and here’s a video of him in English trying to re-enlist at the Army recruiting center after Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was ruled unconstitutional:
Again, there is no question that much work is needed to sensitize the Latino community in the arena of gay rights. Yet, hardly anyone talks about the need for education within the gay community regarding immigrants’ rights. Some have recognized this issue and have featured some attempt at tackling the issue, like with the example of the LOGO cable channel that caters to the LGBTQ communtiy featuring Latino Beginnings, a documentary highligting the status of gay Latinos as “a minority within a minority” or like with gay civil rights hero Lt. Dan Choi coming out in support of immigrants’ rights on the DREAM Act. While there are many gay folks that support and empathize with undocumented immigrants’ plight because of a shared experience of discrimination, there also many that have staunch hardline anti-immigrant views. I have come across a few in my time in person and online, and during the recent failed attempt to move forward the DREAM Act and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell on the Defense Reauthorization Act, we saw a few in the LGBTQ community actually blaming failure of passage of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell on the DREAM Act. In fact, after Republicans blocked passage of both the DREAM Act and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, I got the following message on twitter derisively calling the DREAM Act the “Scheme act” (I’ve blacked out this person’s twitter handle to protect his privacy):
Such an attitude, of course, has no basis on logic, because the same could easily be done on the reverse: blaming failure of passage of the DREAM Act on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell … but that’s exactly my point: pitting one groups’ advocacy rights against the other or blaming each other for shortcomings in outcomes makes no strategic sense. What’s even more tragic is it was apparent that this person did not know that conservatives (starting with Newt Gingrich) were already spreading propaganda blaming the DREAM Act not passing on the effort to pass Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
If we are to succeed at tackling the humanitarian crisis that is taking place on our Southern border and achieve gay rights, we cannot ignore the disturbing trends of mutual discrimination between the two communities. Furthermore, we cannot, whether deliberately or not, continue to have blackouts of each camp’s key moments in the advancement of their aspirations, as was the case when Don’t Ask Don’t Tell completely eclipsed the DREAM Act in media coverage, leaving the DREAM as a mere afterthought, even in progressive media outlets. If we continue to turn a blind eye and pretend that these problems do not exist, those that seek to divide us will exploit those weak links. It is imperative that we strengthen the progressive alliance between gay rights and immigrants’ rights in this country to battle regressive neo-conservative ideology that constantly seeks to usher in even more racist hard line laws against immigrants and more homophobic discriminatory policies targeting gays.
Fact is, right-wingers are already trying to divide the two camps, just look at what the example of how supporters of Carly Fiorina tried to do with a Spanish ad campaign demonizing Barbara Boxer for her support of gay rights. If it hadn’t been for Latinos exposing Fiorina for her support of Arizona’s neo-nazi SB 1070 law, she might have just ended up pulling off an upset victory. In the new political reality that we live in, Latinos have proven to be a swing voting block that can decide elections for either party and by the same token, it can decide outcomes on issues as complex and contentious as gay rights. By the same token, comprehensive immigration reform is an equally contentious issue and immigrants’ rights activists will need as many allies as they can muster in order for immigration reform to pass, particularly in the current absence of a centralized progressive communications network that could even begin to counter Fox News’ anti-immigrant fervor. In the end it is as simple as this: together, we can rise, or together we can fall because, as I mentioned previously, it takes a community to fight despair; it’s our choice.
So what do you think? We all know homophobia exists in the Latino community, but why is it that hardly anyone talks about xenophobia or even racism in the Gay community?