New Coalition Lifts Up Latino LGBT Familia

The civil rights effort Familia es Familia, or 'Family is Family,' had its coming out party at the National Council of La Raza convention in Las Vegas. It aims to increase acceptance of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people in the Latino community, and more than 20 Latino rights organizations have signed on. Guest host Maria Hinojosa talks with Ingrid Duran, the co-founder of Familia es Familia, and Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

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MARIA HINOJOSA, HOST:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Maria Hinojosa. Michel Martin is away. Coming up, DNA solves a mystery about the Melungeon people, an isolated group of families in Appalachia and challenges more than a century's worth of oral history, myths, and assumptions. That's coming up. But first, we take a closer look at a potentially groundbreaking civil rights effort.

Familia Es Familia, or Family Is Family, aims to increase acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people within the Latino community. More than 20 of the largest mainstream Latino rights organizations in the country have signed on. Here's a clip from a video for the campaign about the Moya family, Ray and Byron. They have three children together, and in this clip, Ray talks about adopting their twin daughters.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO CLIP)

RAY MOYA: I got the phone call at 8 in the morning from the social worker, and I called Byron up and I finally got a hold of him and I said, you're going to be a daddy and they're twins. I go, do you want twins? Remember that day like it was yesterday.

HINOJOSA: Familia Es Familia had its coming out party at the National Council of La Raza convention in Las Vegas this week. Joining us now to talk about it is Ingrid Duran, the co-founder of Familia Es Familia. She joins us from Las Vega where she's attending the LCR event. And also with us is Anthony Romero. He's the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union and a vocal advocate of LGBT rights. He joins us from his office in New York. Welcome to both of you.

ANTHONY ROMERO: Thank you.

INGRID DURAN: Thank you, Maria.

HINOJOSA: So, Ingrid, why launch Familia Es Familia now? And why launch it at the National Council of La Raza convention this week?

DURAN: Well, this is the public education campaign that never took place in the Latino community around Latino LGBT issues and acceptance of our Latino brothers and sisters. And the reason we chose to launch it at the National Council of La Raza, it's the largest gathering of Latinos in the country and NCLR happens to be one of our partner organizations.

And so this week at NCLR there's been a lot of historic things happening, including an LGBT panel, a workshop track of four different workshops solely focused on LGBT issues, which is historical. There was the launching of this campaign with 22 national Latino partner organizations, which again is historical.

And the reason we chose to do it with them is because there is not a Latino LGBT organization currently.

HINOJOSA: So, Anthony, when you hear Ingrid laying out that scenario and you think about these mainstream buttoned-up Latino organizations like NCLR, the National Council of La Raza, or MALDEF, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, what's your sense, Anthony, of why this issue of Latino acceptance of gay/lesbian issues is percolating up to the top now?

ROMERO: I think what's remarkable in the effort is that it shows that an overwhelming majority of our community believe that gay and lesbian people have rights, and those rights should be protected, that we're accepted in our families and our communities. It debunks the myth of the Latino community as a homophobic monolith.

I mean, yes, there's homophobia in all of our communities, but it shows you there's much greater acceptance and that much of this stereotyping of Latinos as being anti-LGBT really does turn on its head when you look at the data that Ingrid and others have come together.

I think it's also a manifestation - why now? I think it's a manifestation of the fact that the LGBT community have come of age in importance and significance across the country. We have the President of the United States for the first time saying that gay and lesbian couples ought to be able to get married in America.

First time we've heard the country's highest-ranking political official say that. And I think the maturation is seen by the NAACP taking on LGBT issues. I think it's represented by the work that La Raza and others are now taking on. And I think it's also an incredible way to build alliances across communities that have various similar agendas and have to work together if we're going to make any progress.

HINOJOSA: You know, you hear that, you know, Latinos have an issue with gays and lesbians, you know, a lot of derogatory terms that are used. What in fact are the numbers? What do we know about the truth in terms of numbers about Latinos and their relationship with the LGBT community?

DURAN: There was a couple of great studies that were recently done and they show that 68 percent of Latino Catholics believe being gay is morally acceptable. And as Anthony said, it debunks that stereotype about our community, that we are a very conservative community and don't support LGBT rights. It's just not true.

HINOJOSA: If you're just joining us you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Maria Hinojosa. We're talking about Familia Es Familia. It's a new initiative for LGBT rights and acceptance within the Latino community. Our guests are Ingrid Duran, the co-founder of Familia Es Familia and Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

So Anthony, let's say African-American civil rights organizations, there's been a tension about whether LGBT rights should be viewed through the same lens and given the same priority, essentially, as voting rights or workplace rights for people of color.

ROMERO: Yes.

HINOJOSA: So what about the conversation within the Latino community? Is it the same?

ROMERO: You know, being immigrant or Latino in America is still one of the last great acceptable prejudices. It's still one of those places where polite discourse allows people to be "anti-illegals," quote/unquote. The LGBT agenda is very much the same. It's still one of the few places where we have second-class citizenship by matter of law - just like immigrants - where we don't have the same rights as citizens by matter of law. It's the same thing in the LGBT community.

And so the manifestations, I think, are very similar. And then it's especially true - it's a double whammy - it's not like all gay people are white and all Latinos are straight. The double whammy comes for gay Latinos. And I think this is why Familia Es Familia is so important, because their focus is on the fact that, like in any community, we have gay people in our community.

And they confront then a double discrimination, a double prejudice, the double stigma. And I think that kind of family commitment, the idea that we are all one and that we support one another because the infrastructure of our families and communities and culture is so important, I think has borne out in this research in really important ways.

HINOJOSA: Ingrid, I want to play a short clip in Spanish from another video produced by Freedom to Marry. It's an organization that's working with Familia Es Familia. It features a couple, Christina and Monica. Here it is:

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINA: (Spanish spoken)

MONICA: (Spanish spoken)

HINOJOSA: So, Christina and Monica are talking about their relationship and the kind of understanding that they have between each other. So, Ingrid, you and your partner Catherine Pino, you are both a very influential couple in Washington, D.C. You have a company that's a public relations firm. You used to head up the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

Both of you very, very high powered. And then you came out. So, what was that like to basically be out and doing business in Washington, D.C. as a Latina gay couple?

DURAN: Well, you know, it's interesting, Maria. When Catherine and I started our business eight years ago, we had some folks come to us and say, you know, are you guys going to be out? And we said what do you mean are we going to be out? We are out. And they said, well, what if that hinders your ability to get business?

And our answer to that was, you know, if they don't want to do business with us because we are lesbians, then we don't want their business, because we're not going to go back into the closet. It's really important, especially in D.C., that we are out in all facets of our life, whether it's working with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus or the black caucus or the Asian caucus on Capitol Hill or anyone of our corporate clients.

They need to see we are out, we're proud, we are not going to go back. And it's even more important for our younger folks in the community to see that.

HINOJOSA: Anthony, you are not only the first Latino to head up the ACLU but in my interview that I did with you for the 2011 HBO documentary "The Latino List," you spoke about your own coming out to your family and your papa, your sweet dad...

(LAUGHTER)

HINOJOSA: ...who, when he first heard that you were gay, there were real issues. It was a journey for you two.

ROMERO: Yeah.

HINOJOSA: Is it important for you to be able to talk publicly about this precisely because you don't want other Latinos, young or old, to have to worry about coming out?

ROMERO: Look, the beauty of life is that we get to learn and grow and I hope to do that till the day I die. And that's what happens with all of us, if we live life right. And my dad, you know, of course, he wanted a son who would give him grandchildren and carry on the name with Romero, and he didn't really understand very much what it meant, but he came around. And, you know, at the end of the day, parents love their kids. They love their brothers and sisters, their nieces and nephews, their aunts and uncles. I mean, we love our family members here.

And I think the Familia Es Familia campaign kind of draws on the asset in Latino communities, the fact that our family is family. For me, the biggest part of the campaign is to break the stigma of a lot of gay rights groups who think that Latinos and African-Americans are the problem, not part of the solution.

HINOJOSA: Hey, Ingrid, finally, you know, is this really about making this a political issue? This is, you know - for the Latino community right now, it's an election year, a lot of important issues, economic issues, education, immigration. So do you want LGBT rights to become a political priority for Latinos or, right now, is it about social acceptance, family acceptance and understanding and that being more important?

DURAN: Yeah. No. This isn't a political effort. This is an effort to really work with Latino families to understand and to support their kids, their family members, their coworkers and to work through trusted entities like these national Hispanic organizations because they are on the ground. They work with their constituencies every day and they're the best messengers.

And we really want to change hearts and minds, not only in the Latino community, but like Anthony said, in the broader American community and in the broader American conversation about who our Latino community is. And as Anthony said, you know, Latinos, when you look at them and you look at the polling that was done, 83 percent of Latinos support the protection of Latino LGBT, people from discrimination and housing and employment.

And so, when you look at those numbers, you really have to take a step back from all of the stereotypical things that you hear about our community; that we are homophobic and that we aren't accepting of our LGBT family members, and that's the reason we called this campaign Familia Es Familia because, at the end of the day, no matter what and no matter what the journey is, you are still a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, a mother, a father. And nothing changed from five minutes before you came out. You're the same person and your family will ultimately accept you.

HINOJOSA: Ingrid Duran is the co-founder of Familia Es Familia. That's a new public education and advocacy campaign for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people within the Latino community. She joined us from KNPR in Las Vegas.

And Anthony Romero is the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. He joined us from his office in New York City.

Thanks to both of you.

ROMERO: You bet. My pleasure.

DURAN: Thank you, Maria.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HINOJOSA: Coming up, in the Appalachian Mountains, the group known as the Melungoens went for centuries believing they were descendant from the Portuguese, but a new study says old rumors are true.

WAYNE WINKLER: When I was growing up, there were people who were reluctant to acknowledge any sort of African ancestry because they still remembered the discrimination that would have gone along with that.

HINOJOSA: Being Melungoen. That's in a few minutes on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Maria Hinojosa.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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