By Maritza Martinez, Program Manager, Somos Familia, SF Latina Giving Circle GRANTEE
I never really came out. My mom just figured it out. My family had some gay friends, but I was always terrified of disappointing them by coming out. Thankfully, my Catholic Cuban family embraced my partner and me as part of the family. I feel extremely grateful and fortunate for their love and acceptance. Currently and like my younger self, many Latina/o youth desperately wish for support and acceptance from their families.
Family and community acceptance are key for the health and well-being of LGBTQ youth and adults. LGBTQ youth that are strongly rejected by their families are 8 times more likely to attempt suicide, 6 times more likely to exhibit signs of depression, and 3 times more likely to use drugs than those accepted by their families
Before being introduced to Somos Familia, I had never seen a Latina mom openly express her pride for her LGBTQ child. Growing up I had met some family members who were either accepting or rejecting, but never a Latino parent proudly proclaiming that their child is LGBTQ.
About ten years ago, I remember seeing the PFLAG ads that featured straight family members with their LGBT relatives. It was a proud moment when I saw Latina celebrities like Christina Saralegui stand by her gay brother Ignacio and Rosario Dawson supporting her gay Uncle Frank. This was a huge step in breaking the silence and stigma in our community. But it wasn’t until I watched the Somos Familia short film, Tres Gotas de Agua, and heard Mirna, Dolores, and Susana tell their personal stories that I realized the power families have in transforming our communities.
Since I began working with Somos Familia, I have been surprised and moved by the power of families to affect change. Somos Familia hosts community events, a bi-monthly parent group, and educational workshops in the Latino community to create safe and accepting environments for LGBTQ people and their families. The act of parents talking to other parents about family and community acceptance of LGBTQ individuals is extremely moving and effective for changing hearts and minds. At first, I expected a lot of conflict, but I have been pleasantly surprised at the openness to dialogue and learning from parents of school-aged children, staff in Latino-serving organizations, and other community members.
We have met mothers who thought they were the only ones with a queer kid, grandmothers who are now ready to reconnect with their estranged grandchildren, fathers who are rethinking the gender expectations they place on their kids, and many others who are accepting and supportive of LGBTQ family members.
“Somos Familia has helped me accept my children by seeing other families going through the same thing. We are not the only ones. Going through this process with my children was initially very isolating. With Somos Familia, we have been able to see that it’s normal. We know we are not alone, and now I look forward to volunteering with Somos Familia to be that support system for other parents, just like Somos Familia was for me.” – Juan, a father with LGBTQ children said of his experience with Somos Familia. When his youngest was coming out, Juan and his wife took him to a church organization that offered him support. However, it was all in English. It was very limited in how it could help us as parents. It focused on helping the individual, not the family as a whole. It has truly been a privilege for me to work with Juan’s family and get to know their journey as a family.
I am so proud of the work Somos Familia is doing in the community because we are changing how our community sees LGBTQ people. We intentionally work with all families, not just those with LGBTQ members, because we need our entire community to see themselves as allies of the LGBTQ community.
We are lifting up examples of accepting families, like Juan’s. We are creating safe spaces where all children can be themselves, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression. Somos Familia provides the type of space I, and many other out queer folks, wish we had when we were coming out. I sure am glad this fierce, intergenerational group is around to support our families and communities.
Join us! Get involved. Also – Check out this important report from Human Rights Campaign and LULAC on how to support and care for Latino LGBTQ youth.