By: Ayla Badell, LCPC
“The most difficult problems facing LGBT Latino youth are related to negative responses to their LGBT identity. Concern about family acceptance is the top problem identified, and having their families accept and support them is a key change they wish for in their lives.” From the HRC Latino Youth Report, 2012
Why I Care: Sometimes the public thinks of “coming out” as a once-and-done deal. Actually, it’s way more complicated than that. For example, I am “coming out” as gay right now in this blog. When I introduce my partner to people, I’m “coming out” in that moment. When I hold hands with her in public, it’s like wearing a sign that says: Lesbian Here. To many, this doesn’t change their opinions about me. However, there are people who may see me differently after learning this. The reality is being LGBT+ means being part of a minority that experiences discrimination, inequality, and sometimes persecution.
Although there have been big advances toward LGBT+ equality, LGBT+ youth who do not feel loved and supported by their family will face greater challenges both now and in the future. Family rejection was on my mind as I navigated my coming out process. The Family Acceptance Project found that “family acceptance promotes well-being and helps protect LGBT young people against risk. And family rejection has a serious impact on a gay or transgender young person’s risk for health and mental health problems.” These risks include the youth being 8x more likely to have attempted suicide, 6x more likely to report high levels of depression, 3x more likely to use illegal drugs, as well as 3x more likely to be at high risk for HIV and STDs.
I have experience and perspective on this topic. I am a mental health therapist and have an influential Spanish and Chinese heritage. In childhood I experienced what the HRC describes as, “Allowing family loyalty to eclipse any desire for self- expression, honesty or personal fulfillment,” meaning that being honest about my sexuality would not surpass my duty to “save face” for the family. Whether my pressure was internal or external, generally culture and family can impact one’s coming out process. The HRC noted that, “When one family member succeeds, it often reflects positively on the entire family. Many Latina/o families also believe the opposite to be true, and because there is bias against gays, that silences some LGBTQ Latinas/os, as well as relatives who might otherwise be supportive.”
What To Do: First off, breathe. If you are LGBT+ and have not disclosed this to others, please know that there are resources out there to help support you. If you want to disclose your identity to someone, try looking for a non-judgmental confidant who will respect your privacy. Coming out can be a parallel process, meaning your family will go through different stages of acceptance with you. Give it time. For families who have an LGBT+ youngster, there are also resources available to help you navigate the experience. Metro DC PFLAG is an awesome organization to start with and offer support to both LGBT+ youth and their families. The Trevor Project can help provide youth a free, safe place to talk with trained counselors 24/7.
Mary’s Center’s Mission: Let’s not forget us! Our clinic is dedicated to providing care to all people. For the LGBT+ youth and families who are seeking emotional support and guidance with the coming out process, please know that Mary’s Center is here for you. Our therapists can provide coping mechanisms to handle stress and help the family navigate the process together.
For more information on the LGBTQ+ Latino Youth Report check out the following link: http://www.hrc.org/youth-report/latino-youth#.VdYQqPlViko
References included in this blog: https://www.hrc.org/resources/being-latino-a-lgbtq-an-introduction, https://familyproject.sfsu.edu/