Page last updated at 18:11 GMT, Tuesday, 29 April 2008 19:11 UK

Gay Latinos 'minority twice over'

By Emilio San Pedro
BBC News, New York

The growing gay Latino population in the United States is in a minority twice over, says Andres Duque, one of the community's leading voices.

Andres Duque
Andres Duque says homophobia is a problem within the Latino community

Many already feel marginalised as Latinos and gays in the broader American society but also feel stereotyped as Latinos within the gay community, he says.

That is why he helped start Mano a Mano, a Latino gay rights coalition, 10 years ago.

From his small office in the heart of Manhattan, he works to give a greater voice to Latino gays and lesbians.

"The history of organising within the gay Latino community comes from immigration and how people find themselves travelling from their countries to the United States and then settling here," he says.

"They may have even come out of the closet here and were in need of meeting people like themselves. It was basically a need to find some sort of support and family," says Mr Duque.

Traditional gay rights organisations were not meeting the specific needs of the Latino community, he says.

The only thing you see about Latinos in many of the gay magazines and guides here in New York is pictures of naked Latino boys or skimpy-clothed Latino boys
Andres Duque

"For example, on the issues of immigration and political asylum the traditional gay organisations say that's not something they should be dealing with or focusing on."

Mano a Mano is one of dozens of gay Latino organisations throughout the US. Some focus on the entire Latino community, others concentrate on people from specific Latin American countries.

'Fetishistic view'

As the Latin American population has grown in the US to more than 43 million, it is no surprise that gay Latino numbers have increased as well - to more than four million people, it is estimated.

Diana De La Pava
Diana de la Pava says Mano a Mano helped tackle her isolation

Diana de la Pava is one of Andres Duque's best friends in New York and is also active in the gay Latino community.

She credits Andres and Mano a Mano with helping her assimilate into the gay and lesbian community and feel less lonely.

Both of the activists say the broader American gay community has a stereotyped - and fetishistic - view of its Latino counterpart.

"The only thing you see about Latinos in many of the gay magazines and guides here in New York is pictures of naked Latino boys or skimpy-clothed Latino boys," says Mr Duque angrily.

He says he is disappointed by the lack of articles "which actually talk about the gay Latino community beyond that sexual ideal".

Improved rights

Just as mainstream gay media stereotype Latinos, so the US media has mischaracterised Latin America and not picked up on the greater acceptance of gay people in the region.

"We have actively campaigned to get the media in the United States to move on from the stereotypes of Latin America being too machista, homophobic and Catholic to ever approve gay rights measures," Mr Duque says.

He wants to "focus on the concerted efforts that are going on throughout the region to improve the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people".

I'd rather concentrate my efforts on improving the way we... see ourselves
Diana de la Pava

Same-sex civil partnerships have been legalised in Uruguay, Buenos Aires and Mexico City and last year Colombia's congress approved a bill to grant homosexual couples the same rights to social security benefits as heterosexual couples.

Mr Duque has been living in the US for more than 20 years, having immigrated to the US with his parents from Colombia when he was 12 years old.

He is extremely proud to be Colombian. That pride and his connection with his home country, which he says is something he shares with other gay and lesbian Latin Americans living in the US, is something he says distinguishes them from the broader gay community.

Gay pride march New York City - 24/6/2007
Many Latinos feel stereotyped within the US gay community

Neither he nor Ms de la Pava appear to be completely comfortable within the Latino community itself - pointing to homophobia as an ongoing problem.

However, both of them agree that the best way to address the problem is to focus on being proud and happy with who they are.

"I'd rather concentrate my efforts on improving the way we... see ourselves than dedicate my energy to convincing those in the heterosexual Latino community who are still homophobic to accept us," Ms de la Pava says bluntly.

"I always say that the best way to change their minds is by demonstrating to them that we're happy with who we are and aren't out to hurt anyone."

Uruguay approves gay civil unions
19 Dec 07 |  Americas
Colombia gay rights step closer
16 Jun 07 |  Americas
Mexico City embraces gay unions
17 Mar 07 |  Americas

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