When Ricky Martin first came outÂ and admitted publicly that he was gay,Â peopleÂ seemed to have a couple ofÂ Â interesting reactions: they either seemed to blow it off with aÂ “is that a surprise?” attitudeÂ or theyÂ argued that “a person’s sexualityÂ shouldn’t matter anyway.”Â 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.Â 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.Â Many gay Latinos immediately recognized the magnitude of the situation.Â In many ways,Â the President of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Jarrett BarriosÂ hadÂ it right: Ricky Martin’s decision to come out represented a “game changer”; Barrios expressedÂ duringÂ an interview he gave to PopEaterÂ 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,Â what most people continueÂ to miss in all this isÂ the largerÂ dynamic of how the state of gay rights intersects strategically with an issue that is near and dearÂ to Latinos: immigrants’ rights.Â There areÂ many places whereÂ the two camps intersect, mostÂ visibly in story after story of gay and lesbianÂ U.S. citizensÂ thatÂ are married to or have a civil union with an undocumented LatinoÂ or LatinaÂ that isÂ going through a deportation proceeding.Â There are many instances of such stories, the latest of whichÂ to be publicized is the story of a Brazilian manÂ facing deportation even though he is married to a man that is a U.S. citizen.Â
Most people tend to not go beyond just the need for immigration reform that is inclusive of LGBTQ rights andÂ thus missÂ 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.Â There is no question that much education needs to happen among the Latino community regarding gay rights.Â Gays come in manyÂ colors and shapes, andÂ 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.Â 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.Â HereÂ he is telling his story in Spanish:
…andÂ here’s a video of him inÂ 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.Â Yet, hardly anyone talks about the need for education within the gay community regarding immigrants’ rights.Â 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”Â or like with gay civil rights hero Lt. Dan Choi coming out in support of immigrants’ rights on the DREAM Act.Â While there are many gay folks that support and empathize withÂ undocumented immigrants’ plight because of a shared experience of discrimination,Â there also many that have staunch hardline anti-immigrant views.Â I have come across a few in my time in person and online, and during the recent failed attempt to move forward theÂ DREAM ActÂ and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell on the Defense Reauthorization Act, we saw a fewÂ in the LGBTQ communityÂ actually blamingÂ failure of passage ofÂ Don’t Ask Don’t Tell on the DREAM Act.Â 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):
SuchÂ an attitude, of course, has no basis on logic, because the same could easily beÂ done on the reverse:Â blaming failure of passage ofÂ the DREAM Act onÂ Don’t Ask Don’t Tell … but that’s exactly myÂ point: pitting one groups’Â advocacy rights against the other or blaming each other for shortcomings in outcomes makes no strategic sense.Â 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.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
If we are to succeed at tackling the humanitarian crisis that is taking place on our Southern borderÂ and achieve gay rights, we cannot ignore the disturbing trends of mutual discrimination between the two communities.Â Furthermore, we cannot,Â 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.Â If we continue to turn a blind eye and pretend that these problemsÂ do not exist,Â those that seek toÂ divide us will exploitÂ those weak links.Â It is imperative that we strengthenÂ the progressiveÂ alliance between gay rights andÂ immigrants’ rightsÂ in this countryÂ to battle regressive neo-conservative ideology thatÂ constantly seeks toÂ usher in even more racist hard line laws against immigrants and more homophobic discriminatoryÂ policies targeting gays.Â
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 SpanishÂ ad campaign demonizing Barbara Boxer for her support of gay rights.Â 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.Â In the new political reality that we live in, LatinosÂ have proven to be aÂ swing voting block that can decide elections for either party and by the same token, it canÂ decide outcomes on issues asÂ complex and contentious as gay rights.Â By the same token, comprehensive immigration reform is an equally contentious issue andÂ immigrants’ rights activists will needÂ 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.Â In theÂ 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?