homosexual latinos: the difficulties latinos face in being homosexual; the differences between homosexual latinos and Caucasian homosexuals; how latino homosexuals are treated within their communities, by their families, and within their countries of origin; and how homosexual latinos are treated within Latin America as a whole.
People have argued that homosexuality is part of the latino culture, and has been since pre-Columbian time, as records from pottery, and accounts from conquistadors of the Aztecs' behavior confirms. As the following quote, from a website championing gay and lesbian rights, shows, "homosexuality is a part of the pre- Columbian history of America. Spanish chroniclers observed various socio-sexual roles, including private same-sex relationships, and homosexuality as public ritual. Surviving effigy pottery demonstrates that Native people practiced a wide array of sexual customs. Among the militaristic and prudish Aztecs, sex also had a religious aspect. Xochiquetzal was considered the goddess of eroticism and sexual relations and, in her male aspect Xochipilli, he/she was the diety of male homosexuality and male prostitution. Tlazolteotl exercised dominion over female prostitution, rape, and venereal disease" (http://www.geocities.com/eltejanito/gaylhis.htm).
Champions for gay and lesbian latinos have used this idea to further their cause, and also to argue that discrimination against latino homosexuals is based on biases against the third world, as this quote shows: "The contemporary "gay and lesbian" identity can find critics among Latino/a, mestizo/a (and other) lesbians and gay men whose relationship to western societies is complicated by discrimination and other First World/Third World dichotomies. Gay Latinos and lesbian Latinas have struggled to carve out an identity within the larger structures of society, which are not ideal. The larger structures, more often than not, forget and ignore the histories of gay men, lesbians and Latinos/as. As a result, our identities as Latinos (as), and as gay men and lesbians, tend to be rooted in specific and localized histories and experiences. This quality makes it hard to generalize to a broader "Latino/a" gay and lesbian experience, even as this identity is developing as an organizational tool" (http://www.geocities.com/eltejanito/gaylhis.htm).
This idea is taken further: "gay Latinos and lesbian Latinas have reasons to celebrate their own history of affirmation in being gay or lesbian, and Latino/a. Along with freedom from persecution and internal self-doubt due to their sexual orientation, lesbian Latinas and gay Latinos have sought to address overlapping concerns particular to our race, ethnicity, national origin, and gender through organizations. Latinos and Latinas participated in the incredible and unprecedented growth of gay organizations during the decade following the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969. Gay and lesbian Latinos/as formed independent groups to deal with not only homophobia and sexism in their own communities, but also with discrimination and prejudice exhibited by predominately white gay bars, businesses and organizations. Lesbian Latinas created organizations, meetings and events to directly confront sexism. These organizing efforts by gay and lesbian Latinos/as also have included attempts to produce, or reclaim, a gay and lesbian history/herstory from the Latino/a perspective...." (http://www.geocities.com/eltejanito/gaylhis.htm).
The traditional culture of Latin Americans ('latinos') is very strong, family-based, and built on well-defined gender roles: the man provides, and proves his standing in society by his prowess in his work, through his ability to provide for his family, and by his sexual prowess (his fathering of many children, the keeping of mistresses etc.). The male in latino communities is therefore described through the term 'macho' or 'machismo'. Females, on the other hand, are expected to be home-keepers, devoted to their children, and to their husbands, living to keep them all well, and together.
These are the traditional gender divisions within latino communites, although in some countries, such as Colombia, and in immigrant communities within the U.S., for example, these traditional cultural values are becoming more fluid, and women are generally being allowed more liberation. This is not the case, however, for homosexuals.
The macho latino culture does not see homosexuality as a viable option, with the culture defining the homosexual act as somehow against nature, against the dictates of Catholicism, and against all the latino cultural values, of familismo, machismo, etc. Homosexuals, in both genders, are therefore frowned upon, still, by the latino community. As Larry Cruz, a champion of San Francisco latino homosexuals says,
Identifying as a Gay person within the Latino culture is not easy," he said. "Generally speaking, homosexuality is not accepted as an identity in the Latino community though there is a lot of homosexual behavior" (quote can be found at (http://www.blacklightonline.com/gaylatinos.html).
A recent paper by Marsiglia (1998) explores the relationship between ethnic, gender and sexual identities among latinos/as from a developmental perspective, and finds that, indeed, culturally prescribed gender roles and a lack of support from the latino communities are oppressive factors that inhibit a healthier integration of ethnic and sexual identities for homosexuals living within these communities. The role that social workers can play in facilitating such integration is also discussed within the paper, along with other recommendations, within a culturally grounded approach, and it is reported that social workers and more intervention from individuals from other communities can greatly help latino homosexuals in their processes of self-discovery (Marsiglia, 1998).
It is common knowledge that homosexual latinos suffer hugely (and proportionately) more cases of HIV than Caucasian homosexuals: although latinos make up only 13% of the U.S. population, in 2001, they accounted for more than 20% of the new HIV cases reported in the U.S. (http://www.hivtest.org/docs/factslatino.pdf).
Further, 14% of latino men who have sex with men were found to be infected with HIV in a recent multi-city study of men aged 23 to 29, compared to 7% amongst Caucasian homosexuals sampled, and 32% of black homosexuals sampled (http://www.hivtest.org/docs/factslatino.pdf).17% of the newly reported cases of HIV infection were Latinas, with 18.1 per 100,000 latina living with HIV, which is almost four times the prevalence for Caucasian women (http://www.hivtest.org/docs/factslatino.pdf).
Latinos are contracting HIV at an alarming rate, with latinos twice as likely as Caucasians to contract HIV (http://www.hivtest.org/docs/factslatino.pdf).153,000 of the 833,000 infected HIV people in the United States are latinos, and 82,000 latinos have died of HIV (http://www.hivtest.org/docs/factslatino.pdf).AIDS is the second leading cause of death amongst latino men aged 35-44, and the fourh leading cause of death amongst Latinas aged 35-44 (http://www.hivtest.org/docs/factslatino.pdf).
Hypotheses to explain the severity of the HIV problem amongst homosexual latino men include the lack of openness by latino homosexuals, through their oppression by their communities, which leads to them not seeking safe sex information, not practicing safe sex, and also, later, not receiving the correct treatment for HIV.
Latinos contend with multiple risk factors: the diversity of sub-cultures (as research shows that latinos born in different sub-cultures have different behavioural risk factors for HIV); poverty (more than 20% of latinos in the U.S. live in poverty, and a link between lower incomes and HIV risk has recently been proven); denial and discrimination (due to cultural values, such as 'machismo'); partners at risk (Latinas are at risk if their non-openly homosexual partner practices his homosexuality secretly, and then continues to sleep with his female partner); connection to STD's (latinos have high rates of STD's in comparison to other racial groups in the U.S., and the connection between STD and HIV prevalence is strong) (http://www.hivtest.org/docs/factslatino.pdf).
Within countries in Latin America, as we have seen, there are differences in attitudes towards homosexuality, for instance, Brazil is more open than Colombia, or Ecuador (for example). This could also explain the difference in transmission routes for homosexuals from different sub-cultures (as shown above, excerpted at (http://www.hivtest.org/docs/factslatino.pdf).
A summary of attitudes towards homosexuality in different Latin American communities will make this point more explicit. In Brazil, male homosexual relationships are legal, as the male homosexual act was decriminalized in 1823 (http://www.ilga.org/Information/legal_survey/americas/brazil.htm).The age of consent for male-male acts is 14, as for female-females (http://www.ilga.org/Information/legal_survey/americas/brazil.htm).The legal stance towards homosexuality in Brazil is also fairly flexible, as, for example, discrimination on the grounds of sexuality is illegal (http://www.ilga.org/Information/legal_survey/americas/brazil.htm).
In Mexico (a very 'macho' culture), homosexual acts between males and females are legal, over the age of 14 (http://www.ilga.org/Information/legal_survey/americas/mexico.htm).The laws have recently changed, to disallow discrimination on the basis of sexuality (http://www.ilga.org/Information/legal_survey/americas/mexico.htm).Mexico, therefore, seems to be moving forward to become a more, open, progressive society than it previously was.
Other countries within Latin America, such as Colombia, and Chile, are also at a similar 'level' of development with regards to pushing forward legislation in favor of homosexuals. It seems, as we have seen, therefore, that as a whole Latin American societies are becoming more open to the idea of homosexuality, but that discrimination will always exist against homosexuals, as homosexuality is so engrained against the traditional cultural values.
Within the context of this paper, as it is relevant to this topic, as we have seen, for example, through cultural differences in HIV transmission routes, we will see how 'latino' is an umbrella term for a diverse group of people, with social, cultural and political differences (http://www.blacklightonline.com/gaylatinos.html).
As Cherrie Moraga, a well-known Latina lesbian says, "In general, we get along pretty well we [U.S. born Latinos] call ourselves…