Diciembre 2003 
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¿Como es ser Latino/a y Gay en Ann Arbor?

Just as all Latinos are not the same, all gay people are not the same. The experiences of gay Latinos, inside and outside of the U.S., is diverse and varied from one person to the next. The ways in which they handle these experiences differ as well. Recently I spoke with five Latinos, locals and internationals, about their sexual orientation and life. Their experiences and circumstances, though varied, can offer little more than a snapshot of this diverse subgroup within our Latino community.

One of my first and more pressing questions was, "How open are you with your Latino friends and family."

Martin Contreaus, owner of the Aut bar in Ann Arbor, is a third generation Mexican living in the U.S. He feels very comfortable identifying himself as a gay man and is open with everyone. Martin is very adamant about feeling lucky to live in Ann Arbor. He feels like he has been blessed with a community that not only allows him to be who he is, but embraces him as a part of the community. Martin is well-known in the gay community as well as the business community, and feels respected in both. He is active and out in all areas of his life.

Mauricio, a 34 year-old Costa Rican now living in Quepos, Costa Rica told me, "Quepos is a different 'country' than the rest of Costa Rica, so I am open with my friends here, but not the ones in Alajuela" (the small town where he grew up.) Though he lives with his boyfriend in a gay-friendly beach resort, he says he is not active in the gay political movement in Costa Rica because his "mother does not know and she would die if she found out." Mauricio lived in New Jersey for years with a different boyfriend, before moving back to Costa Rica. They moved together to the U.S. so they could be "free" to live together as partners, and to avoid the discrimination that both felt in their home country. But even in America, Mauricio didn't feel entirely comfortable expressing his sexuality. He said, "I avoided much contact with the gay community in the U.S. I felt more at home in the Latino communities, so the experience for me was not as open as it could have been."

Jose, a 32 year-old Colombian living in Ann Arbor for three years now, is really not open with anyone. He insists he considers himself gay and is not ashamed, yet none of his family and none of his Latino friends, in Ann Arbor or Colombia, know about his homosexuality. He has decided that he will wait to be open about his sexuality until he lives in another town. He justifies this extreme (to me) measure because he doesn't want to force people who already have one concept of him to accept another.

Maria is a 23 year-old Colombian lesbian living in Ann Arbor for the past seven years. She is open with her entire family because she feels that being closeted hurts her, and she is not willing to hurt herself over something she is not ashamed of. She agrees with Martin that Ann Arbor is a wonderful community that accepts her for who she is. Marie also feels lucky to be living in a place where people are interested in more than simply her sexual orientation.

Javier, a 32 year-old Puerto Rican man who moved from Ann Arbor to Minnesota in 1997, says he is open with his family. Javier tells me, "It depends what you mean by 'out.' I'm 'out' as in we've openly talked about it to my siblings, or at least two out of three of them. I'm 'out' to my parents, particularly my mom, in the sense that we have an unspoken agreement not to talk about anything. Let's just say it's been a very long time since either parent has asked me whether I'm going to get married."

Jose, Mauricio and Maria all strongly believe the difference between Latin Culture and American is extreme where gay issues are concerned. Maria had no idea what a lesbian was when she was living in Colombia. She barely knew what a gay man was, only that they were people who got beat up a lot. She never even heard about lesbians until she moved to the U.S. and heard people discussing it in the street. She told me, "Ahhh, so there is a name for what I am, maybe I am normal." She immediately came out to her whole family, saying she was not going to live in the closet anymore, hurting herself and being fearful. Jose sees the U.S. as a place to be totally free. He thinks the difference between the U.S. and Colombia is extreme, and while he is not out to more than 5% of his friends here, that 5% has made him feel much better about himself and the future of gay culture in the world. Martin, who was born in the U.S, and Javier, who has lived here for many years, see things a bit differently. Javier explains, "I think being gay in Puerto Rico - in many ways you're more "closeted" by US standards, but in other ways queers are also deeply enmeshed in the culture. I don't know how to explain it. I just don't buy the whole 'U.S. is liberal and Latin America is homophobic' thing. They're just differently homophobic." Martin agrees with Javier on this general interpretation of the different attitudes of gay culture in the U.S. and in Latin America.

It seems to me while I agree with Javier and Martin that Latin and U.S. culture are both inherently homophobic, just in different ways, there is a correlation between time spent in the U.S. and comfort in identifying as gay. While the U.S. continues to struggle with the idea of allowing freedoms associated with straight culture to be afforded gay couples, Latin America is struggling on a more personal level. And so it seems clear to me both cultures, Latin and U.S., are a far cry from embracing people as they are. As a society we should learn to appreciate what people bring to the community as a whole, and judge people on this idea alone. All these people who participated in this article are active in our community or theirs and for this they deserve our respect. Gay Latinos are a part of our culture in Ann Arbor and until we embrace and treat them to the same benefits afforded others in the community we are a far cry away from the freedom from persecution people such as Jose and Mauricio came looking for.



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