“Hola, mi nombre es Javier y yo soy gay,” said Javier Saucedo as he began introductions at La Familia, the monthly Spanish-language meetings in which parents of Santa Ana youths discuss how to support their children who come out as gay, lesbian or transgender.
Saucedo is the program director for DeColores Queer Orange County, a grassroots advocacy and support group for the LGBT community. At a recent meeting of La Familia, participants told their stories: a mother recalled her journey to first accept and now celebrate her son’s orientation. In addition, an older lesbian couple reflected on their Guatemalan and Mexican upbringings.
Other parents at the meeting recounted their own “coming out” experiences – that is, their journeys to openly acknowledging their children’s LGBT status in their communities.
An important topic was how cultural beliefs about homosexuality, shaped in part by religion and machismo, sometimes made it hard to support their LGBT children.
At the meeting, mother Graciela Ferrada, originally from Jalisco, Mexico, said her then 21-year-old son cried when he came out due to the fear of being rejected by his family.
“He just wanted us to love him,” said Ferrada. She and her husband, Juan, immediately accepted his sexuality after seeing him in that state, but it is still a continuing process for them.
Unfortunately, her relatives refused to accept her son’s sexuality, condemning him to “Hell.” Following her maternal instinct to protect her child, Ferrada had to cut ties with some of her relatives.
“The culture that people were raised in… when they see homosexuality, they abhor it. ‘We will pray for you,’ is the biggest insult you can tell my son.”
One participant at the meeting who did not want to be named had a similar story about a young boy suspected of being gay in her hometown in Guatemala.
Her aunt told her, “He needs to get rid of those behaviors or else he’s going to turn into a faggot.” She wanted to respond to her aunt’s strong words but instead, she dropped the topic, afraid she might give away her orientation as a lesbian if she spoke up.
No one in her family knows that she is a lesbian and has a partner who attended the meeting with her. They hope that by attending La Familia they can reduce the chance of the parents rejecting their children.
Fearing discrimination, Latino LGBT youths commonly keep silent about their orientation, and they are more likely than their peers to face rejection from their communities and schools, according to a 2013 report by the Human Rights Campaign and LULAC, the League of United Latin American citizens.
At a recent meeting, a participant who did not wish to be identified, recalled that she almost ran away at a young age in Mexico because she was forced to wear heels and dress like her younger sister.
At the age of 11, she saw two boys holding hands as a young girl trailed behind them. Her heart sank when her aunt’s lips mouthed, “Oh no, they’re gay.”
She was young and didn’t understand what the word meant, but as her aunt explained with a revolted tone and expression, it petrified her because she only had eyes for the little girl that trailed behind the boys. So, she never spoke up about her sexuality even after coming to the U.S.
Speaking up is the goal at La Familia, which Saucedo helped co-found in part because he felt silenced growing up gay in Santa Ana.
He had delayed coming out for fear of his mother’s rejection because of her Catholicism. Eventually, he was forced to confess to his mother after a friend of the family guessed his sexuality. She wasn’t wrong. He told his mother, though not his father, so the conversation ended there.
But Saucedo wasn’t satisfied with that arrangement. In 2009, he and his friends started DeColores Queer Orange County for the Latino/a LGBT community, creating a space for activism and socializing.
Then, in honor of a documentary called “DeColores” about the move toward tolerance in the Latino community, they created La Familia in 2010 to focus on Latino youth coming out. Soon after co-founding DeColores, Saucedo and his friends came out to their own parents, or specifically in Saucedo’s case, his father, at a workshop at DeColores Queer Orange County’s annual conference.
His mother knew what the workshop was about, but his father was unaware when they went to the conference that day. The workshop was for parents of LGBT youth and it soon became clear to Saucedo’s father why he was there.
That day began a conversation, a process for acceptance as Saucedo has taken on a public leadership role in Santa Ana’s LGBT community.
“At first, he was uncomfortable with me coming out on TV and being a spokesperson about my sexuality,” Saucedo said. But over time, his father has fully accepted his son’s activism. “There was so much growth from my father. Acceptance is different for every parent, and it’s something you keep learning.”
Since the early days of DeColores’ La Familia, the meetings have served an otherwise unmet purpose: normalizing LGBT and providing support.
“These parents need to meet other parents with LGBT children,” said Saucedo, who believes it’s easier for a white family to accept an LGBT child than a Latino family due to language barriers, cultural and religious beliefs and especially a lack of access to resources like the Internet or information in Spanish.
“Most of the times, our parents never know how to react,” he said
La Familia’s monthly meeting, held at the LGBT Center OC, is the only space in Santa Ana focused on the Latino/a parents of LGBT individuals, Saucedo said. “We created that space to help parents from our community and educate them about the LGBT community, to help others facilitate their process which in turn helped us in the end. We needed that conversation and that support through this course. It was for all of us. This was our Familia.”
Jocelyn Contreras is studying Literary Journalism at the University of California, Irvine.