In the weeks leading up to Election Day 2008, I was a part-time graduate school student working as full-time teacher. I divided my time between teaching, grading homework, and writing papers for school. Proposition 8, the voter initiative that sought to take away the right for same-sex couples to marry, was on the ballot. Despite my limited time, as a gay Latino, I felt it was my duty to ensure the right to marry the person I love shouldn’t be taken away—not from me nor the hundreds of other couples throughout the state.
I stepped into a “No on Prop 8” campaign office only a couple times. I put up lawn signs and donated to help defeat the discriminatory ballot initiative. I talked to voters on the phone, yet only a handful of those conversations were with Latin@s, and to a lesser extent in Spanish. At the time, I knew I could do more. Even though support for the LGBT community seems to be rising, I know we can collectively do more.
For the fourth year in a row, a Field Poll shows majority support (59 %) among Californians for the right for same-sex couples to marry. The news comes after last month’s ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals of Proposition 8’s unconstitutionality. Opponents of marriage equality have appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court and the freedom to marry in California continues to float in legal limbo. While we’ve made many advances toward marriage equality, the work needed to change hearts and minds of Californians, especially among Latin@s, is far from done.
As support for the freedom to marry among Latin@s increase, more works still awaits. A previous poll showed that 57 % of Catholic Latin@s support the right for same-sex couples to marry. However, that is not the case among all Latin@s. While there has been significant movement (50% to 53% percent) in the last two years, many Latin@s still struggle to fully support marriage equality. The solution is simple: we need to engage Latin@s, in English and Spanish, about the importance of supporting full equality for all.
Critical to ensuring that Latin@s solidly and unequivocally support full equality for all is making sure they understand and empathize with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. There are harmful repercussions that result from transphobia and homophobia. These often lead to depression, substance abuse, and suicidal behaviors among LGBT people. Unfortunately, many Latin@s still believe negative stereotypes of LGBT people to be true. Bullying, hostility, and epithets used to refer to LGBT people are still common. We must continue to shed light on damaging stereotypes and increase support for LGBT rights — not just marriage equality — by reminding Latin@s of the importance of treating all members of their family and community with dignity and respect.
In our work to secure marriage equality and LGBT equality, we must continue engaging in courageous and constructive conversations with our Latin@ friends and families in order to regain their love and embrace.
Online or in the field, you can start by bringing up the topic in a tardeada, carne asada, or family gathering. There are many ways to increase Latin@ community. You can start by learning about LGBT terminology in English and Spanish, educating others about the LGBT equality, or organizing a community discussion on LGBT issues. If there is not already an LGBT group in your area, you can take the initiative and start one. The next step should be to organize a phone bank, a door-to-door canvassing campaign, or a letter campaign asking your local elected officials to support LGBT equality and the freedom to marry. Most importantly, all throughout the way, we must ensure the full inclusion of equality-minded Latin@s in these efforts. Basic rights and fully equality for all is everyone’s responsibility
Gaining the unwavering support for LGBT equality from the Latin@ community requires more than just work on the ground. Additionally, we must ensure we provide financial support to fund the fight for full equality. LGBT organizations are dangerously underfunded. The top 10 anti-LGBT groups, whose sole purpose is to strip LGBT people of their basic rights, spend almost three times as much as 40 LGBT equality organizations. For example, the so-called National Organization for Marriage, a hate group that funds anti-LGBT initiatives, alone operates with a budget of $8.6 million. In order to continue the work to increase support for LGBT equality, we must make sure to donate to Honor PAC and the Latino Equality Alliance.
The key to our success is a renewed commitment to LGBT equality, one that encompasses the rights of all our LGBT brothers and sisters, as well as a holistic approach to organizing, fundraising, and moving public opinion within all of California’s communities. While we have been triumphant in the federal courts, we still need to win in the court of public opinion. We cannot walk away from the work we began less than four years ago. We cannot allow for the Latin@ community, a critical thread of the American fabric, to be ignored. We can and will have to do more.