Being Young and Gay in Ethnic Communities

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There are a lot of phrases that a young woman does not want to hear, particularly in a salon.

 

“Get out. I don’t want that around me. I don’t like it and it makes me sick,” recounted Milla [name has been changed], 21, in an email interview. These were the words that Milla’s hairdresser said to two female customers who walked into the salon holding hand.

 

“I didn’t know at the time why I felt embarrassed, pain, and sadness for her, but years later, I realized it was because I like females too,” Milla continued.

 

While it may seem that nowadays self-expression and acceptance is at a high point, many Americans are still having a difficult time opening up to the idea of homosexuality. As many members of our young generation try to find equality for all, regardless of sexual orientation, they begin to realize that a lot of the difficulty in reaching older members of their families stem from a lifetime of cultural beliefs. These cultural beliefs have led many ethnic groups within America to take a vow against homosexuality.

 

What some may not realize is that these beliefs also leave hundreds of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transvestite, and queer (LGBTQ) community afraid to come out. Milla, who is Jamaican, realized she was a lesbian when she was 18 and has still been unable to tell her family about her sexual orientation for the past three years.

 

“Most to all Jamaicans, I feel, would react to homosexuality with disgust and confusion,” said Milla, “Which is why I fear coming out to my family and friends. They chastise any and everyone who they think is gay with no sympathy.”

 

From a very early age, before she knew she was a lesbian, Milla understood that homosexuality was frowned upon in the Jamaican community.

 

“Most to all Jamaicans, I feel, would react to homosexuality with disgust and confusion,” said Milla, “Which is why I fear coming out to my family and friends. They chastise any and everyone who they think is gay with no sympathy.”

 

Milla believes that a stand against homosexuality is traditional among the older generation of Jamaicans because of their religious upbringing. They were taught in church that homosexuality was a sin, and so, without knowing the consequences, they reiterated that teaching to their children, some of which are struggling with their own sexuality in a more open and accepting environment.

 

“Church has a lot to do with it,” said Milla. “Almost every child who grew up for some time in Jamaica went to church and those values are taught there as well.”

 

Milla also mentioned that traditional Jamaican culture is far less tolerant of gay men than they are of lesbian women.

 

“[Homosexuality among men] is highly unacceptable, and I’ve heard of cases where you can get killed for being gay,” said Milla. This particular harshness against gay men seems to be a commonality among several ethnic groups.

 

In Uganda, for instance, homosexuals have been targeted by the government with a bill famously called by media the “Kill the Gays Bill”. Vanguard produced an excellent documentary entitled Missionaries of Hate, viewable here. A note of warning: it is not easy to watch.

 

One Guatemalan man who came out to his family but wishes to remain anonymous said this is also a prevalent idea in some Latin American nations. Unlike Milla, who feels a strong religious upbringing plays a significant role in the bias, the Guatemalan man believes it is the rigid gender roles in some Latin American cultures that are behind the dislike of homosexuality.

 

“When a male behaves in a way considered ‘feminine’,” explained the Guatemalan man in an email interview, “in my opinion, it is viewed as a threat to the social structure because it breaks what is expected. He is immediately ostracized and considered weak.”

 

He reflected on the demand for teenage boys to begin dating: during adolescence, young boys are expected to have a girlfriend, and the boys who do not have girlfriends are usually questioned, in many cases by their father and uncles.

 

“When a male behaves in a way considered ‘feminine’,” explained the Guatemalan man in an email interview, “in my opinion, it is viewed as a threat to the social structure because it breaks what is expected. He is immediately ostracized and considered weak.”

 

“[He will] be questioned as to what type of girls he likes, when he will get a girlfriend, why he doesn’t have a girlfriend, etc.,” said the young man. He went on to explain that introvertedness or lack of forwardness in one’s heterosexuality is usually a trait associated with women, and from a young age, boys are taught what a masculine man is, and is then expected to be one.

 

“I was told that my aunt’s nephew said to his younger brother ‘if I ever hear that you are behaving like a sissy, I will kick you!’” recalled the young man. “There are those who are gay and try so hard to hide their own homosexuality due to fear of what others may think of him.”

 

Though both Milla and the young man from Guatemala admit that it is a struggle being a homosexual in a culture with such strict beliefs, there is hope. Because younger generations in ethnic communities have grown up in America, they tend to be more accepting of the LGBTQ community than their parents.

 

“I think with the younger generations, they are beginning to live in a society, USA, that is more tolerant and accepting then back at home in Jamaica,” said Milla.

 

Because of this, Milla, along with other members of the LGBTQ community who are afraid to come out to their families, has been able to find great support in her circle of friends.

 

“When I came out to one of my good friends, who is Jamaican, she was okay with it. She was confused, but she didn’t judge me because of it and she still looks at me as the same person she knew before I came out,” said Milla.

Carlos Menjivar, a heterosexual man who also grew up in a Hispanic culture, believes the young generation will be able to eventually persuade the older generations to accept everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation.

 

“With the new generation swaying away from the culture’s beliefs, we can see a new light of acceptance to homosexuals,” said Menjivar. “Or anyone from the homosexual community.”

by & filed under Health & Humanity, World.