Did you miss our LGBT Latino/a Community Meeting? Check out this recap from La Gente Unida!

A Latino LGBT town hall meeting was held September 22 at Unidos N Orgullo (UNO), a newly-formed Latino GLBT resource center located at the nonprofit Sisters of Color United for Education building in Denver. Sponsored by the newly-formed One Colorado (OC), the event was held to unveil the OC statewide survey findings pertinent to GLBT Latinos and to obtain input from GLBT Latinos on what OC should be doing as an advocacy and lobbying entity for the GLBT community.

The meeting began with UNO Project Manager Raul Rodriguez welcoming approximately 30 attendees and introducing Chicano gay activist Jessie Ulibarri.

“We just lost two issues of importance to us as GLBT Latinos,” said Ulibarri in reference to the U.S. Senate’s recent vote to uphold the ban on gays in the military and to block passage of the DREAM (Development Relief and Education of Alien Minors) Act, a proposed federal law that would give high-school graduates from undocumented families the opportunity to apply for temporary six-year residency during which they could enlist in the U.S. military or attend a U.S. college.

“Just because both issues were defeated does not mean we should give up,” added Ulibarri, who was at the meeting in his capacity as State Director of the advocacy group Mi Familia Vota and as Chair of the Human Rights and Community Relations agency for Denver’s government. He also serves on the OC political action committee.

Sharing the introductory phase of the meeting with Ulibarri was Lorena Garcia, the Policy Director for the nonprofit Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR). Holding her young baby in her arms as she spoke, Garcia noted that Latinas between the ages of 14 to 24 are the primary focus of COLOR programs. She stated that she and several other COLOR staff identify themselves as “queer” Latinas.

Upon expressing his pride in his daughter and then asking how parents can do more to show support of their GLBT children, Garcia’s father wanted to know if there is a Latino version of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays). “Pbandera,” quipped Ulibarri who evoked laughter on the part of several attendees who understand Spanish. Flag is the English translation of the Spanish word “bandera.”

Brad Clark, Executive Director of OC, presented the findings of the OC survey in which there were 381 GLBT Latinos/as, who comprised about 8 percent of the total 4,619 GLBT Coloradans in the survey that was conducted by OC over a one-month period earlier this year. Using a computerized presentation projected on to a big screen, Clark disclosed the survey statistics of GLBT Latinos’ responses on numerous topics and compared the percentages to those of the overall surveyed population.

Of the GLBT Latinos in the OC survey, 72% were men, 25% were women and 2% were transgender. Among those respondents, the survey found: 67% have lived in Colorado for more than ten years; 71% were raised Catholic (but only 19% of them are currently Catholic); 32% have no health insurance; 24% have experienced job discrimination; 52% have been harassed at school; 12% have experienced police harassment; and, 83% have never been victims of physical violence due to their sexual orientation.

The survey also found that the statistical mean age at which Latinos come out to one’s self is age 16, which is younger than the statistical mean age of 19 for the overall surveyed population. Of all Latinos in the survey, the overwhelming majority (58%) was between the ages of 18 and 34. On the issue of self-identity, the OC survey found: 68% identify as gay; 16% identify as lesbian; 8% identify as bisexual; and, 4% identify as queer. There was no data on how Latinos identify themselves in terms of cultural heritage as that issue was not asked in the survey.

Once Clark concluded his presentation, attendees broke into three groups to discuss their respective topics related to the survey and later on reconvened as one gathering in order to share what each group discussed.

“Each group will probably find intersections of issues being discussed by the other two groups,” said Garcia upon informing the three groups the specific topic that each group was to address.

Assigned the topic of what was missed in the survey, one group had Chicano gay college student Kameron Martinez present the group’s suggestions that included the need to obtain demographic information about Latino respondents regarding factors such as: political affiliation; self-identity of cultural heritage; language spoken at home; access to community services; level of community activism; how they learned about the survey; and, an age breakdown that shows the differences in responses of Latinos. Martinez also noted his group’s suggestion to include people under 18 in the OC survey, which required respondents to be 18 or older.

The second break-out group at the OC meeting was assigned the topic of divisions within the GLBT community. That break-out group’s findings were presented by Lupe Vargas, Coordinator of Volunteers and Youth Programs at COLOR. She cited divisions and barriers such as: economic status; citizenship status; racism; language differences; access to services; lack of cultural proficiency at GLBT spaces; lack of a youth-led movement; and, lack of organization leads to inaction.

The third break-out group was assigned the topic of top priorities of issues. The OC survey found among its Latino respondents that expanding rights/recognition of GLBT families and ensuring schools are safe for GLBT youth were the two top priority issues, which were also among several issues named by the break-out group at the OC meeting. The group’s priorities were presented by Latina lesbian Debora Ortega, Director of the Latino Center and Social Work Professor at Denver University. Other priority issues listed by Ortega’s group were: relationship recognition; immigration; more acceptance in education; and, the intersections of identity.

“At times there is the inability of identity to exist,” said Ortega in reference to one of the priority issues listed by the break-out group at the OC meeting.

Although OC used the words “first time” to describe its survey in the booklet given to respondents and African American lesbian activist Nita Mosby Henry was quoted in the 9/8/10 issue of Out Front Colorado (OFC) as using the words “first time” to describe the OC survey findings of the African American respondents, it was not the first time that GLBT Latinos were surveyed in Colorado. Kameron Martinez told the gathering that the nonprofit La Gente Unida (LGU) conducted a survey of GLBT Latinos in Colorado 15 years prior to the OC survey this year. While Latinos made up 8 percent of the respondents in the OC survey, Latinos were 100% of the respondents in the LGU survey. Not having Internet access and other modern technology in the mid-1990s, LGU survey circulators used only hard copies to obtain respondents at places oriented to GLBT people and OFC included the survey in its statewide distribution.

“We need to honor that [the LGU survey] and the other work of those who have come before us,” said Mimi Madrid, Youth and Reproductive Justice Programs Coordinator for COLOR.

One of the most alarming statistics in the LGU survey was that 58% of the respondents had been fondled, molested or sexually abused as a child or teenager. There was no significant statistical difference between the responses of men and women on that issue. A family friend, cousin or uncle were named most often as the abusers. One respondent, who listed her father as the abuser, wrote on her survey: “I abhor my Chicano father.” At the time of the LGU survey results, the professional journal “Pediatrics” had just released the results of an extensive study that found 99% of all child sexual abuse is done by straight people.

When asked if there is racial diversity and cultural competency at OC, Clark replied that OC has an anti-discrimination policy, racial diversity on the OC board, a statewide kitchen cabinet, an African American working group (often times known as an advisory committee), and a Latino working group. Clark also noted that OC has plans to do a paid media campaign in the Latino community.

“He [Clark] may not look like me, but he and One Colorado have our best interests in mind and they [Clark and OC] are culturally competent,” said Rodriguez.

Supplemental input was offered when Clark asked the audience how OC can be more connected to Latino concerns.

“I would like to see One Colorado become supportive of Latino grass-roots campaigns,” said Ulibarri. “You need to be part of the public face.”

“I need to be represented when I am not in the room,” noted Ortega in an apparent reference to situations in which white allies are present when bigoted remarks are made while Latinos are not present. “I need to know how my community is being treated when we are not around.”

When asked to pick three sources that are most useful in getting information about the GLBT community, 44% of the Latinos in the OC survey stated they get their information from Out Front Colorado (OFC), and 37% get their information from e-lists to which they belong on the Internet.

“With that big of a percentage of Latinos who rely on Out Front for information, there should be more representation of us in the content of their paper and on the cover,” commented Garcia.

One participant pointed out that such a sentiment has been periodically raised about OFC down through the years and OFC has made considerable improvements, which include doing consistent outreach to LGU and other Latino sources to submit articles to OFC of which a Latino gay man has been the Editor-in-Chief the past 17 years.