BOYLE HEIGHTS, CA- Revealing one’s sexual orientation can be one of the most challenging experiences for an LGBTQ youth, but coming out in a culture with a heavy religiously conservative foundation can make the whole ordeal that much more difficult. Nowhere else is this more self-evident than in America’s most populace state, California, where the majority of African-Americans (70%) and Hispanics (53%) voted in favor of Proposition 8, the state constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage in the Golden State on November 2008. Realizing the dire need to build inroads within these communities of color by establishing family acceptance, and directing resources to disenfranchised LGBTQ youth, the Boyle Heights Building Healthy Communities initiative, in collaboration with the Latino Equality Alliance, created East Los Angeles’ first-ever LGBTQ youth/family resource fair and workshop event… the Boyle Heights LGBTQ Forum. Much to the satisfaction of the various organizations and individuals involved (a collaborative effort of over 50 groups) the event, which transpired last week, on Saturday, April 6th, was a complete success.
A Call for Help from East L.A.
The event was hailed as a tremendous stepping stone in the right direction for various reasons, one of which was its location within the east L.A. community of Boyle Heights, which maintains a predominately Latino population of 94%. “LGBT people keep asking for a ‘gay and lesbian center’ in their Latino communities because existing LGBTQ specific resources are so geographically distant and inaccessible, especially to those who are economically challenged. For example, it is a 1 to 2 hour drive each way if you have a car, from East LA to Hollywood or Long Beach,” stated Ari Gutierrez, co-chair of the Latino Equality Alliance, “that’s not accessible.”
Considering Boyle Heights’ Latino community is staunchly religious, family acceptance of LGBTQ youth is definitely hard to come by, and that is confirmed by Jovenes, Inc, a homeless youth facility in East L.A., which reports that over 50% of their clientele are LGBTQ youth. An event such as this forum in a community that is not too accepting of gay rights can only help to build and strengthen relationships between LGBTQ youth and their families. “Since Prop 8 was passed, our LGBTQ equality work in the Latino communities that voted in favor of Prop 8 revealed severe concerns around access to services. We are also deeply concerned that while we are rightfully concerned with bullying at schools, we have an added problem in our Latino communities where bullying is happening at home,” said Gutierrez. As confirmed by this forum in Boyle Heights, the need for change is there and it is real.
LGBTQ Forum: Resources, Education… and Fun!
The Boyle Heights LGBTQ Forum hosted an array of organizations dedicated to providing badly-needed resources to youth and family as well as representation from the Obama Administration via White House LGBT liaison Gautam Raghavan. “Events like this are really a shining example to communities all across America of how a community could come together…to seek solutions to the unique but really critically important issues facing our youth,” declared Raghavan.
The event was not all work, however, as the attendees were treated to an entertaining and eclectic mix of drag performers, ranging from Jennifer Lopez, to Donna Summer, and Jenni Rivera.
Present and Future
For now, the outreach will continue through other forms of community workshops and events. Hailed as a success because of it’s capacity crowd, diversified workshops, LGBTQ resources, and target location within a community of color, the LGBTQ Forum might well return for a second installment. “We hope there will be more frequent community education presentations,” stated Gutierrez. “In the meantime, we’ll continue with our (Latino Equality Alliance) ‘Breakthrough Conversations’ training program and we will continue to connect with the Building Healthy Communities initiative to empower and engage community members in challenging the status quo and implementing policy change at the local, state and federal level including through legislation for access to health services and comprehensive immigration reform.”
To learn more about:
-The Building Healthy Communities initiative by the California Endowment, please click/tap HERE.
-Latino Equality Alliance, please click/tap HERE.
Photo ‘s used throughout article are courtesy of LEA’s S. Debra Evans.