Editor’s Note: Raul A. Reyes, an attorney and member of the USA Today board of contributors, writes frequently for CNN Opinion. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. (This commentary contains some offensive language.)
Raul Reyes: Senseless violence of Orlando attack hit Latino community hard
LGBT Latinos can feel isolated from their families as well as LGBT community, he says
The world has been horrified by the massacre in Orlando, but the senseless violence hit especially close to home for Latinos. We look at the list of last names of the victims – Fernandez, Martinez, Rodriguez – and see our names. We look at the photos of the victims that are already on the way to becoming heartbreakingly familiar and see people who look like us. We see our own lives reflected in the lives of those who were killed, from the gay cruise director to the Starbucks barista to the assistant producer for Telemundo.
So Hispanics stand united with the LGBT community, right?
Not so fast. The New York Times has noted, “Among Latinos, acceptance of gay culture has moved ahead less assertively” when compared with gay-friendly cities such as Orlando. The Times is right, and it is time to change that reality. More than ever, Latinos must move past outdated stereotypes to love and respect all members of our community. The assault on the young people at the Pulse nightclub was an assault on all of us.
According to a 2013 report by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, an estimated 1.4 million Latinos in the United States identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Many Americans are aware of the challenges involved in growing up LGBT. Now amplify those challenges for anyone growing up in a culture rooted in machismo, religion and rigid gender norms. As adults, LGBT Latinos can feel isolated from their families, yet simultaneously isolated from the larger LGBT community as well. That is why events such as “Latin Night” at the Pulse nightclub exist, so LGBT Latinos can come together and be themselves in a safe space.
Or at least they could until last weekend. As Miriam Zoila Perez wrote in an essay for the multicultural website Colorlines, “Being queer and Latinx in the U.S. sometimes feels like it can be impossible to find our people. And now tragedy has found us.”
Sadly, it is easy to imagine that some of those who were killed Sunday were not even “out” to their families. That they may have died without their loved ones ever really knowing who they were seems a tragedy twice over. The irony here is that we Latinos value our family ties so greatly that the stakes are higher for Latino youth who come out to their families. As a result, some LGBT Latinos stay in the closet, afraid to risk rejection at home.
The good news is that we have seen a shift in Latino attitudes toward the LGBT community, most notably on the issue of same-sex marriage. In 2006, 56% of Hispanics opposed same-sex marriage, according to a Pew Research Center survey. By 2012, the numbers had nearly flipped, with 52% of Hispanics supporting it, Pew found. These days, there are also “out” Latino celebrities modeling healthy and productive lives, from singer Ricky Martin to the boxer Orlando Cruz.
Although Latinos have collectively come a long way toward accepting the LGBT community, that is not good enough. Consider the evidence of Latino homophobia on display from coast to coast just this week. In California, hours after the Orlando massacre, a Hispanic pastor in Sacramento praised those sickening events. “Hey, are you sad 50 pedophiles were killed today?” the Rev. Roger Jimenez asked his congregation. “I think that’s great. … The tragedy is that more of them did not die.” A video of Jimenez’s sermon went viral before YouTube removed it for violating its policy on hate speech.
On Tuesday, Elliot Morales received a 40-year to life sentence for killing a gay man in a hate crime in New York’s Greenwich Village. That same day, a group of Latino pastors urged North Carolina lawmakers to “stand firm” in support of House Bill 2, the controversial law that prevented the city of Charlotte from expanding civil rights protections for LGBT people.
To combat such ugliness, Latinos must strive to embrace our LGBT brothers, sisters, friends and families fully.
Sure, we may feel powerless in face of the Orlando attack, because we might not be able to convince our representatives to change our lax gun laws, and we might not be able to stop random acts of terror. But we can stop using words such as “maricon” (faggot), which is still one of the most potent insults in our communities. We can raise our voices against the violence and discrimination faced by transgender Latinos. We can stop judging people based on who and how they love. And we can do our best to ensure that all of our children feel loved and nurtured, so that they can grow into healthy, adjusted adults.
We Latinos should not wait for another attack on our community to raise our consciousness and open our hearts. The time to love each other and everyone in our community is now. The memory of those who were killed in Orlando demands nothing less.
Raul A. Reyes, an attorney and member of the USA Today board of contributors, writes frequently for CNN Opinion. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. (This commentary contains some offensive language.)