BY ESTHER J. CEPEDA
In October 2015, a video called “The Truth About Being A Gay Latino” by Flama’s Gabe Gonzalez made the rounds, noting that it “can place you at the intersection of some bizarre cultural phenomena.”
This is a major understatement. But fast forward to June 12, 2016 when a gunman killed 49 people inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando Florida during their weekly “Upscale Latin Saturday” theme night. And then to the next day’s news coverage, which the mainstream media flubbed by initially failing to mention that more than 90 percent of the victims were Latino.
Speaking at a post-attack panel discussion in Washington DC, Dan Guerrero, an acclaimed director, producer and community activist who has performed his autobiographical show “Gaytino!” across the country, noted, “The Latino and the gay communities have both come a long way, but in so many ways when you venture out of the major cities, it’s like the 1950’s out there. We’re still something foreign and different.”
This even though the Latino Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender(LGBT) community can boast that its political roots go all the way back to 1961 – preceding gay icon Harvey Milk – when José Julio Sarria ran for the San FranciscoBoard of Supervisors. Sarria had been active in fighting against police raids and harassment and, in the early ‘60s, helped found the League for Civil Education, which provided support for gay men arrested in raids. He is noted by LGBT historians as one of the first openly LGBT people in the world to run for political office. Although he lost, he received 6,000 votes and showed the potential for political power from a unified LGBT community.
Today, though parts of the straight HIspanic and non-Hispanic communities might still think LGBT Hispanics are new and different, The Williams Institute estimates, based on 2010 Census data, that 4.3 percent of Hispanic adults (about 1,419,200) identify as LGBT. And that number is sure to be revised upward considering recent political and civil rights triumphs – such as the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the legalization of same-sex marriage in June of 2015 – and the expected post-Orlando spate of Latinos coming out to their families.
For high-profile, long-time Latino participants in the fight for equality, the emergence of Latino LGBTs as a valued constituency and power base in the broader LGBT community has been a continuing, and successful, work in progress.