by Dru Dinero -
Special to the SGN
The great social justice movements throughout history change the way we live. The group of people who 'have' must now share with the group who previously 'had not.' The spark that ignites from social injustice explodes into a movement, years pass as grassroots activism helps advance politicians sympathetic to the cause, and, with just the right amount of pressure and finesse, society is changed forever.
The quest for social justice, including the civil rights and immigrants' rights movement - and the modern LGBT equal rights movement - could be likened to the domino effect.
The domino effect is a chain reaction that occurs when a small change causes a similar change nearby, which then causes another change, and so on in linear sequence. The key to a successful domino chain is not necessarily the lead domino, but the setup. If just one domino is placed too far to the left or right of the one before it, change will stop dead in its tracks and the once-linked sequence of events becomes stagnant. The same could be said for the civil and equal rights movements. If you don't have the right allies placed in front of and behind you - just like dominos - the movement stops.
On July 8, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), along with a coalition of 20 prominent Latin-American civil rights organizations, publicly announced their support for a campaign called Familia es Familia ('Family is Family'). And this, my friends, is a domino placed in exactly the right spot.
The goal of Familia es Familia is to promote the acceptance of LGBT sons and daughters by their families across the Latin community. The significant change in the way some Latinos, elders in particular, view the LGBT community as a result of this campaign is a welcome, albeit surprising one.
When I first read the headline announcing this historic declaration, my instant reaction was to read it again because I thought I must have been misreading something. But when I reached the end of the article a second time a feeling of reverence swept over me because there it was, something I was beginning to think I might never see in my lifetime: a unified Latin-American community in support of LGBT equality.
The campaign focuses on the center of Latin culture - familia. The message it sends reminds those members of Latin families who are prejudiced that our Latino brothers and sons are still family, even if they are Gay, and our Latina sisters and daughters who are Lesbian are also family.
It is important to note that the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) had already begun to hold trainings on the subject in June, during a national convention in Orlando, Florida.
David M. Perez, director of development for LULAC, told me it is the goal of LULAC's civil rights mission to 'support all of our Latinos so they do not experience discrimination in employment, housing, or education, and have the right to marry, as all U.S. citizens should.'
At first glance, the 'coming out' of these organizations in support of LGBT equal rights could be viewed as a bold step for the Latin community as a whole. After all, Latin culture is steeped in traditional family values, a conservative way of life with strong ties to Catholicism and Christianity, and the expectation to carry on the family legacy. That cultural pressure can be particularly strong where men are concerned.
That was not the case for me, however. At age 22 and as a Latin-American male with Guatemalan parents, I proudly identify as a straight ally to the LGBT community. I first came out in support of Gay rights at 18. I am proud to be a good example that my friends can follow and I ask that all other straight allies, who vote in secret for pro-Gay ballot initiatives and candidates, to consider being a visible and vocal supporter because it's the right thing to do. I will admit it takes some nerve to talk to friends and family about your support for the LGBT community - at first. But then you begin to realize most people are sympathetic to messages of nondiscrimination. As for the ones who aren't - don't verbally beat them up too badly the first time around. Give them some time and they'll get there.
I can very clearly remember the first time I saw the transformation of a conservative Latin mother, after she learned that her oldest son was Gay.
Maria attended the same traditional Christian church as my family. One Sunday she explained to a handful of fellow church members that she had woken up to both a dream come true and her worst nightmare.
She said her son graduated high school at the top of his class and had been awarded a college scholarship. This, Maria explained, was the dream come true.
But the nightmare, Maria said, began when her son called a family meeting to come out as Gay.
Needless to say, the somber mood that crept into Maria's house that day stuck around as she agonized over questions like, What horrible hell would God condemn her son to? She also fretted over what her pastor and the rest of the congregation might say. She wondered if his being Gay was because she had done something wrong.
After months of crying and praying, Maria accepted her son as Gay. Family, she said, is more important than anything else.
'God is love,' Maria said to my mother over coffee. 'And I love my son exactly the way God sent him to me.'
Luis Hernando Ramirez of Entre Hermanos, a Seattle-based LGBT resource center for Latinos, told me, 'In general terms, I believe we see more acceptance from family members of their LGBT sons and daughters these days, rather than families that exclude them due to religious viewpoints.'
But, Ramirez was quick to point out, that's 'not to say that it always happens that way.'
'Still,' he said, 'I think it's safe to say that the love of a family tends to trump religion - no matter how Catholic or Christian that family might be.'
The launch of this campaign, and the way the Latin communities are embracing it, makes me proud of my Latin heritage. By developing Familia es Familia, Latin American leaders in our country are showing us, the community they serve, that they are invested in the current state of affairs, and seek to influence a positive change for a better tomorrow.
Most importantly, this coalition can now stand side-by-side with the NAACP, organized labor, and President Obama as monuments of progress, acceptance, and understanding of LGBT issues. And this is a personal victory for me as well. For a long time I saw myself as somewhat of an outsider. I was made to feel like I was too liberal and just 'not Latin enough' to fit in. With this announcement, the Latin-American organizations have not only opened their arms to their LGBT brothers and sisters, but also let the progressive thinkers of our country know they have a new ally - the young, pro-Gay Latin American with the right to vote.
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