Latinos cherish and adore our culture. There are so many aspects to be admired. We have precious memories like going to quinceañeras and church with our family. Going to parties as children and sleeping by speakers while adults danced all night. We devote so many memories to our families as Latinos. Clearly, family means a lot to us. But what about when our family turns their back on us? 

For non-straight Latinos, these memories may become spoiled. As gay Latinos grow up, we realize that our culture often hates us. For many of us, the time we spent with family runs out. They eventually don’t want to associate with us. What makes Latinos turn their back on us, gay people?

What makes up Latino culture?

Latinos are anyone who comes from or has descent from a country in Latin America. Many individual cultures make up the “Latino” label. Not all Latinos are the same but there are many similarities between individual cultures. Whether you are Mexican or Salvadorian, there is common ground. Both good and bad, especially as it relates to being gay.

Family orientation in Latino culture 

Family connection is deeply important to Latinos. We spend so much time with family. It’s very common for Latinos to be close to all relatives. This does sound wholesome at first. Who wouldn’t want a closely-knit family?

Being so family-oriented means that many Latinos don’t care about individuality. Many only care about representing the family as a whole. People who don’t adhere to social norms end up feeling shunned for not thinking about the family.

Not thinking about the family’s image comes off as selfish. For gay people, this means we either have to hide that part of ourselves or disappoint our family.

Religion causing homophobia in the Latino community

52% of Latino immigrants identify as Catholic. Not all Catholics are homophobic, but it is extremely common for plenty of them to use their religion to justify hating others. Many Latinos point to the bible when asked why they hate gay people.

In the case of Latinos, many immigrants have families. This means they end up raising kids with their same beliefs and same religion. The next generation learns the same messed up morals. The hatred for gay people continues. And homophobia continues to stain Latino culture.

The gender roles In Latino culture

The Latino community normalizes strict adherence to gender roles. Women are expected to be wives and mothers. They are expected to cook and clean. Men are expected to be providers. Supporting their family is seen as masculine, which comes at the cost of sacrificing time with their family.

It is important to understand the roles both sides are given. This helps us understand why sexual minorities receive hate. Gay people don’t fit into either role. Men are “supposed” to end up in a relationship with a woman. However, that is something gay men will literally never do. This makes many Latinos baffled. They can’t imagine a man wanting to be anything but a father. People usually fear what they don’t understand. Because they don’t understand gay men, they learn to fear them. And this fear drives hatred.

Machismo leading to bigotry against gay Latinos

Machismo is the belief that men are superior to women. This coincides with the idea that Latino men can’t show weakness. They understand they shouldn’t cry or show emotion. They believe they should act in stereotypical manly ways.

They don’t just want to “act” like a man, they want to be acknowledged as one. A father, a husband, and a hard worker. This, however, often means overcorrecting their behavior. They view showing emotions as feminine. Doing anything seen as feminine is gay (and inherently negative) according to them. 

So, they don’t show their emotions. They don’t want to talk to their children with sincerity. They don’t want to confide in their friends for fear of being judged. Latino men have to force themselves to be so “manly,” so they judge other men for not doing the same. Machismo men hate gay men for this reason. 

Why do Latinos often hate gay people?

The aspects that make up Latino culture do not allow gay people to fit in. They often don’t allow anyone of any difference in the family or the community. Women who don’t want to be mothers receive questions and comments that they will regret that choice. Men who cry are criticized for being weak. They may even say that God made women and men so they can be together. Going against that is believed to be wrong by many Latinos. 

The existence of gay people challenges this entire mindset. Proud gay people destroy their previous notion of what is acceptable. What their culture represents could never include gay people…but it does. Gay people exist whether Latinos like them or not. And that frustrates many. Some Latinos will use every excuse under the sun. “It’s not natural” or “You’re just confused”. But as we can tell from the above discussion of Latino culture, the issue may really stem from heteronormativity.

Heteronormativity and how it affects gay Latinos

Heteronormativity is the social construct that heterosexuality is the only socially acceptable sexual orientation. Many Latinos believe that being straight is the only possible option. Anything else is just confusion or for attention-seekers.

A lot of the older generation, mostly those who immigrated, have this mindset the most. Heteronormativity is all they know. They never heard anything back home about anything else relating to gender and sexuality. And now they pass that onto the future generation. They pass on traditions and cuisine. But they also pass on their bigotry.

What does homophobia mean for gay Latinos?

All homophobia does to any gay person is make us hate so much of life. We hate ourselves. We hate others who won’t accept us. We are angry that our sexuality causes so much division.

For Latinos, it adds another layer of pain. Problems for gay Latinos, and any sexual minority, manifest in several ways. You not only hate one aspect of yourself. But you also hate a whole other part of your identity. The result is bottling up anger and hatred. Both for yourself and everyone in our lives.

LGBTQ mental health

LGBTQ Latinos often have worse mental health. 59% of Latino LGBTQ youth have said they have experienced symptoms of depression in the past two weeks. This number is just horrifying but not surprising. Growing up, all you know is the immediate people around you. Friends and family almost seem like the entire world. And when it seems like the entire world hates you, it makes living a happy life seem impossible.

Feeling isolated as a gay Latino

Latino families’ reactions to finding out you’re any sort of sexual minority varies. They can get mad. They become disappointed. The outcome is usually that they distance you from the family. By removing what they deem unfit, they save some face in the Latino community.

Gay people don’t have to reveal themselves to feel isolated. Even just knowing that we won’t be accepted makes us gay people want to self-isolate. We end up making a difficult choice. If we choose to hide our true selves, we don’t face backlash and our family saves face. Unfortunately, this is the choice many of us make.

Feeling discriminated against by people familiar with discrimination

Being a gay Latino comes with its unique set of experiences. One reason that homophobia from Latinos hurts is because it’s your own people hurting you. Latinos know what it’s like for others to treat them poorly. Many of them have experienced first-hand discrimination. They see what bigots call us online. Latinos get called criminals just for existing. However, the ignorance they have faced does not stop them from also being ignorant.

I had a Latino friend who I trusted with my secret during high school. I told him I was gay. And to my pleasure he was supportive. I thought I felt stressed over nothing. However, not even a couple weeks later, he calls me the F slur. It was just like any other day afterschool. But for some reason he just said that disgusting word. He proceeded to chuckle when I got mad at him about it. I still remember how he thought it was funny. I also remember how disappointed I felt in myself. I did not have the strength to stand up for myself. Many young gays still don’t.

Survey results on Latino culture

I surveyed a couple of my non-straight friends about their non-hetero and Latino experience. I asked, “Have you experienced homophobia in the Latino community? If yes, how did it make you feel?”

One friend said, “Yes, I have and still do. Unfortunately, it’s in my own household, my parents have very strong and very negative opinions about homosexuality, and they often voice those opinions”. She then goes on to say, “It felt like I would never belong in the Latino community if I revealed that I liked people of the same gender. Now when they make those comments, I just feel bitter and a little sad that they don’t try to be more open-minded.”

“Yes, I have. When the LGBTQ is a topic discussed during a family event, F slurs and other bitter words are said and it makes me feel ashamed of who I am,” said another friend.

My last friend said, “Of course. Many times. I never enjoyed opening up my sexuality, because I fear I would get judged.”  She then says, “Yet, with my sexuality, I feel less. I feel severely disconnected from my own Latino community, because according to them I have not truly understood what love is.”

How can you still love being Latino?

The homophobia in Latino culture does not have to ruin your life. Yes, it is awful to deal with. But there is so much more to our culture. Sometimes us queer Latinos don’t see the beauty of our culture. We are too busy seeing all the negatives to appreciate what we do have.

A new queer, Latino community

Being a teen means it’s the perfect time to find others like you. You can find other gay and LGBTQ+ people and help each other. You can be the start of a new Latino community. One that is accepting of all people.

Peer suggestions

We can gain so much knowledge by talking to other queer people. I surveyed my friends to give advice to other gay people. I asked, “What suggestions would you give to younger gay Latinos?”

One friend said, “Make friends who are queer or allies, having a community of people in which you can share your problems, thoughts, and experiences freely and without judgment makes you feel less lonely.”

“Find and talk to people you trust, like other people who identify as LGBTQ or allies. You’re not alone, there are other people who feel the same,” another responded.

The last response was, “Be confident in yourself and don’t let people take you for granted. Don’t forget to communicate with others around you. Just know that you’re beautiful and loved and cared deeply”.

What if you don’t love yourself as a gay Latino right now?

You may not love yourself right now. And that is completely fine. One day, with some help from yourself and others, you will feel right. You will feel like you belong.

The Trevor Project

The Trevor Project has a 24/7 Crisis Hotline that you chat, call, or text. Some people may not have friends to confide in, but there is always someone to talk to.

Talk to a friend

Not everyone has easy access to therapy. However, talking to a friend, especially another gay Latino, could make you feel less alone. Not everyone has that option, but you can find similar communities on the internet. Making queer online friends can be just as fulfilling, and sometimes it’s easier to talk about things with someone you don’t know in real life.

In conclusion…

You may struggle with your intersectional identity for a long time, and that’s okay. I am now able to embrace being a gay Latino when at one point I thought I could never. Soon enough, I believe every gay Latino youth can learn to love every aspect of their identity, just as I have. Be proud of your culture. To my gay Latinos, I want you to know that you are seen. Every queer Latino before you is proud. And you are most definitely loved.