Sunday, June 24, 2007

Gay Hispanics' added pressures - Cultural, religious issues create special set of obstacles
BY ESTHER J. CEPEDA Staff Reporter
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times
June 24, 2007

It's tough enough being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. Add being Hispanic, and the rainbow that has represented the diversity of the queer community for years gets even more colorful.

"There is a double stigma," says Tania Unzueta, executive producer of "Homofrecuencia," a bilingual gay radio program launched in 2002 that broadcasts from Pilsen on Radio Arte, a community radio station.

"When you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered and Latino, you are faced with certain obstacles that others are not. So we're trying to create a space in this movement where we can embrace that we're proud to be both."

While coming out of the closet is never easy, an increasingly gay-friendly Latin American culture is making its way to the United States. Regions in Argentina and Brazil officially recognized same-sex civil unions years ago, and most recently Mexico City has joined the club. They are paving the way for more accepting attitudes within long-established communities who accept new immigrants every day.

'Very loving homophobia'
Even still, coming out in the Hispanic community has its own set of cultural challenges that others don't face as much -- religion being a major factor.

Though overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, the Hispanic community in the United States is increasingly turning to other branches of Christianity, where some of the teachings are no less strict regarding biblical references to homosexuality.

"Religion makes it that much harder to come out. The big stereotypes about AIDS and sinfulness come very directly from the church," said Unzueta, 23, a Little Village resident who came out to her family when she was 17. "For our parents, there's this really big fear we're going to actually go to hell.

"It's something that's very real, but it's a very loving homophobia."

Ethnicity and the country's continuing struggle with immigration take their toll on Chicago's burgeoning Hispanic gay community, as well.

"When you look at Chicago as a whole, our demographics are changing," said Jorge Valdivia, a trustee of the Association of Latino Men for Action, a North Side advocacy and support group for gay/bisexual men, one of three Chicago gay Hispanic groups. A national GLBT group is in the works.

"I want the gay community to take a hard look at itself -- what is it doing to serve an increasingly monolingual community that doesn't speak English and is in dire need of services? When you're GLBT and only speak one language, it's hard."

Divided passion
Unzueta also feels the distinct pull of having to divide her passion between struggling for immigrants' rights and for gay rights. While there are no concrete estimates of the number of Hispanic homosexuals and bisexuals in the United States or in Chicago, Unzueta said "I'm not exaggerating, we're everywhere."

All three of the Hispanic organizations came together to march for immigrants' rights in May. "It's a triple whammy," she said, "with the focus on immigration this year, we're feeling it two times."

Comfort level in Pilsen
Social stigma, religion and language barriers aside, geography is also behind the push to go mainstream. Everyone knows the epicenter of Chicago's gay community is trendy Boys Town on the North Side, but gay Hispanics seeking a culturally friendly community are increasingly looking south to Pilsen.

The National Museum of Mexican Art has proved an anchor for the three groups, even hosting the first Hispanic lesbian wedding in 2003 and "Noche de Arco Iris" (Rainbow Night) in 2004, the first Latino queer prom in the country. It was also a sponsor of the 2006 Gay Games.

"The museum sends a clear message that we're working closely with them," said Valdivia. "What happens in Pilsen, in Chicago's Hispanic community, sends a message to the rest of the country."

The Pilsen community provides a comfort level not found anywhere else. "There were no spaces, physical or otherwise, where there were GLBTs who spoke mainly Spanish," said Unzueta who, along with the rest of the Homofrecuencia and Radio Arte staff, will participate in today's Pride Parade.

"It's very difficult, I feel like if you're white and gay, you can go to the North Side, but we've [Hispanics] found each other and formed our own family."

"It's not all bad," she said, smiling. "I love being gay and Latina. I wouldn't take it back for a second."


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