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Raised In The U.S. And Coming Out To Immigrant Parents

Camila Fierro and her girlfriend, Erica Brien.

Oscar Nuñez.

Camila Fierro and her girlfriend, Erica Brien.

Audio

Aired 1/23/14

Editor's Note: This week Code Switch has been bringing you a series of stories prompted by a poll from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health. And one of the findings that stood out was a striking difference between Latinos born and raised in the U.S. and immigrants when it comes to the degree of openness when it comes to talking about sexual orientation. NPR's Jasmine Garsd explored how some Latin American immigrant parents interact with their gay children who were born or raised in the U.S.

Oscar Martinez was 9 years old when his family moved to the U.S., but he still remembers life in Honduras.

"When I was growing up in Honduras LGBT people were invisible. They would only come out at night, and they were sort of like urban myths" says Martinez. "Just like in the song by Willie Colón."

Martinez is referring to "El Gran Varón," a famous salsa song during the 1980s about a young man, Simon, who immigrates to the U.S. and becomes trans. He then dies of AIDS at age 30. Martinez says he used to hear his family talk about the song and it made him feel sad. He was in college when he told his parents he was gay. Even though they are now completely accepting, his father told him he was giving up the chance of having children. And his mother was scared

"She starts crying and says, 'We love you no matter what and will be as supportive as possible. But do you realize you are already a brown Latino man? How are you going to handle another label?' "

The Martinez family is emblematic of a finding in our survey: 15 percent of the immigrants we surveyed declined to reveal their sexual orientation -- gay or straight -- while nearly all Latinos born in the U.S. were much more open; 99 percent gave us that information.

Life for people in the LGBT communities of Latin America can be rough -- very rough. And those memories can be hard to forget.

Camila Fierro was born to Chilean immigrants who fled the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. She came out to her parents in college. She says her mother still carries the memory of what life used to be like in Chile. "It was so closed and shuttered, and gay people where ostracized, and terrible things did happen. And they still think it's that way."

Those fears are not unfounded; there are violent acts in Latin America against gays and lesbians. At the same time, gay marriage has been legalized in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and parts of Mexico.

And in the United States, a majority of Latinos now favor same-sex marriage, according to a recent survey conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center. That represents a significant shift in opinion.

Gladys Rodriguez, a Peruvian nanny living in Chicago, remembers when her son told her he is gay. She feared his schoolmates would bully or reject him. And some parents did forbid their children to hang out with him. But many others came forward to support him.

Rodriguez says, "Parents also have to come out of the closet and be openly supportive of their gay children."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit www.npr.org.

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