“But I Don’t Speak English…”

Written by Laura Garcia        

Through UCLA Labor center’s Dream Summer program, which provides internship opportunities to immigrant youth and allies throughout the nation, I was given the exceptional chance to work with Metro DC PFLAG; an organization whose main mission is to keep families together. Our work revolves around educating an ill-informed public about LGBTQ issues, creating spaces for support, and advocacy

According to a research done by The Williams Institute at The University of California School of Law, there are approximately 267,000 LGBT-identified individuals among the adult undocumented immigrant population. As metropolitan D.C.’s immigrant population increases – stated in The American Council states 2014, “New Americans in Washington D.C.” article – we are faced with new challenges to help keep families together. Metro DC PFLAG is committed to its mission, but what does it mean to keep families together in our immigrant community that struggles due to their immigration status, language barrier, cultural values, and religious beliefs?

I personally know the struggle many undocumented queer individuals undergo when it comes to not only accept, but also embrace one’s identities in a community that is often governed by judgement and lack of information. Growing up in an immigrant family, my parents expected me to conform to the norm; to “blend in” with society. Anything non-traditional was seen as inappropriate; hence having an attraction for the same gender was something I hid and repressed for many years in hopes of outgrowing these feelings. That never happened. Not having my parent’s approval and support of something I could not possibly change made it very difficult for me to accept myself. It made me doubt and sometimes hate myself for feeling this “immoral” attraction. After many years of battling with my sexuality and coming to terms with it, I mentioned it to my parents again. I let them know that that “friend” I was always hanging out with was actually my girlfriend. They said “oh, ok” and went on with what they were doing. Frankly, this broke my heart a little bit. I wanted to have an honest and more open relationship with them, but just like with any other topic many Latino families are uncomfortable with: they ignore it, pretend that it is not an issue, and simply move forward with life. To this day, I do not share anything related to being or working with the LGBTQ community with my parents. Which I am still building the courage to change.

So what can Metro DC PFLAG do to help keep families together among this growing population of Latino immigrants? Because we know that many of our Hispanic/Latino members are immigrants and English is – of course – not their first language, we have created a Spanish speaking community group to provide education and support. Metro DC PFLAG knows the importance for parents to have access to a space in which they can express themselves comfortably. It is clear that it takes time for parents and family to process and understand what it means for a loved one to let them know that they identify as LGBTQ. Engaging with other parents and family members who have experienced or are currently experiencing this oftentimes makes the process of acceptance easier. So does learning about the LGBTQ community and what many of us have to go through, which is why educating Latino families is so important.

We held our first meeting on June 2015, attracting 7 parents and allies who shared their stories, concerns, and questions. At the time when I came out, my parents could have definitely benefited from a Spanish speaking PFLAG group to let them know that it is not the end of the world as they are not alone and my sexuality does not change who I am. Them not having resources to educate themselves on the topic of LGBTQ and not knowing other parents going through the same has made the process of acceptance long and lonely.

To reach out to the Spanish speaking community and let them know of our new resources aimed specifically for the needs of this community, we conducted a radio interview with the largest Spanish station in the DMV area, El Zol 107.9. One of our PFLAG moms, Zoila Fajardo, shared her moving and uplifting testimony on being a parent of a transgender child. Hearing a Latina mother supporting and embracing her child’s true identity made me feel inspired to continue this work of spreading information and love to more Latinos so they too can learn to love and support the LGBTQ community.

Metro DC PFLAG is also working in translating brochures, its website, and other content into Spanish to increase access. We are aiming to have educational information available in both languages, and ideally integrate other languages in the near future. Because oftentimes undocumented immigrants fear being outed, deported, and rejected when seeking resources, it is common for this community to deny resources even when they are unrelated to immigration. And so having educational information available for them in their language, I believe, is essential. Within this past year, we have been working with other Latino LGBTQ organizations to connect with the issues affecting the Latino community. Immigration being one of them. Even though immigration is a controversial topic; as an organization, we are here to provide support and education in advocating for LGBTQ rights to anyone who may need it regardless of one’s immigration status. Defending families and securing the safety of our youth is and will always be a main concern.

We hope to help our Latino and immigrant community by providing support and resources as we start this new group. Metro DC PFLAG wants to make sure that parents, family, and friends of the LGBTQ community know that they are not alone and that this new space can allow for their worries, concerns, and questions to be expressed. Because language barriers has always been a problem when reaching out to diverse communities, this is a major step to the right direction. I urge everyone that if they know someone who needs help, inform them about PFLAG and the new Spanish speaking group in D.C.

 *This post was written by our Dream Summer 2015 intern, providing a glimpse of the lack of resources affecting the Latino immigrant LGBTQ  population.

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