Saturday, September 10, 2011

Gay Latinos Fighting BS: Bias and Stereotypes

Carolina Ramos has seen the struggle over and over again. She is the Latino/a services coordinator for the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Community Center in San Diego, where she sees families torn and battered, as they try to come to grips with a child who has a different sexual orientation.

"A lot of people think LGBT issues are one thing, and Latino issues are another," Ramos said. "But for many people, you cannot separate them."

Ramos traveled to Sacramento recently to testify at an Assembly hearing on the subject. In general, she said, health risk factors increase in severity with societal pressures -- and Latinos in the LGBT community have multiple stressors, Ramos said.

For instance, lower-income people have difficulty accessing health care. Language can be a barrier. Distance from health care facilities is a barrier. Gay patients have an additionally difficult time communicating with providers. Immigrants face discrimination. Gay Latinos face discrimination from family, from friends, from church. There is the social pressure of machismo. All of those pressures add up, Ramos said.

"Everything from low income to race are stressors," she said. "You know, I've had parents say, 'Hey, they're your responsibility now, your responsibility if they die,' and that [kind of situation] was very painful."

That's the kind of situation often faced by gay Latinos and one reason for convening the recent hearing, according to Assembly member Ricardo Lara (D-South Gate), who also is chair of LGBT issues for the California Latino Legislative Caucus.

"We have individual and unique circumstances that LGBT Latinos face," Lara said, "not only in mainstream society but in the Latino community, as well."

That culture clash within the Latino community is the biggest barrier to cross for many people, according to Lara -- himself included.

"At the end of the day, you can't take away my rice and beans," he said with a laugh. "But how I feel is, you shouldn't have to choose between your culture and your sexual orientation."

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