Fraternity encourages openness for LGBT Latinos on UI campus


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Growing up in a predominantly Latino community, University of Iowa sophomore and member of Sigma Lambda Beta international fraternity Paul Biagas encountered lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people who feared coming out because they were afraid of what others deemed socially acceptable.

“It’s really about rhetoric and the conceptions that people have against the LGBTQA community that make it difficult for these individuals to come out,” he said.

As a student at the UI, Biagas meets people who deal with the same struggles.

“There has been people here in Iowa City whom I’ve met who are scared to come out because of their feelings toward how their family will treat them,” he said. “There are so many different people who have problems, not only here in Iowa City but also problems back home when they return.”

The UI Sigma Lambda Beta chapter hosted its second S(h)omos  Latinos presentation Thursday evening to bring awareness to the struggles faced by LGBTQA Latinos in the Hispanic community.
Participants watched Brincando el Charco Portrait of a Puerto Rican, a documentary film that looks at the issue of identity through the life of a Puerto Rican woman living in New York.

“[We host S(h)omos Latinos] to increase people’s knowledge about struggles people have to go through whenever they’re coming out to their families, depending on faith and culture,” said UI senior Martin Lopez, a member of Sigma Lambda Beta. “Especially in the Latino culture, because a lot of Latinos are known to be Christians or Catholics, it’s looked down upon.”

The presentation focused on the struggles LGBTQA women face within the Latino culture.

“You really never hear about people focusing on Latina women who are lesbian,” Lopez said. “I just hope people understand the difficulty Latina women have to face when coming out to their families and having to live with that background.”

Lopez said that being LGBT in a Latino community can make it hard to find support.

“They need a support system, such as we all do,” he said. “It’s pretty tough finding a support system, because not a lot of people in the Latino community will be there for them. There’s negative stigma that we put on those people.”

UI freshman Abigail Toribio agrees that identifying with LGBT is not always supported in the Latino community.

“Our families are very culturally in tune as one,” she said. “Our community doesn’t approve of us being different from others. It’s very controversial between families, but some families are lenient toward their sons and daughters.”

Someone close to Toribio helped her realize the problems LGBT Latinos have to face.

“It’s kind of hard to see that person go through this situation and not have their parents approve of it,” she said. “They can’t talk about it without anybody judging them.”

Molly Tafoya, the communications director for One Iowa, said that people’s religion and community can have an effect on their acceptance for identifying with LGBT.

“In certain cases, it can make it more difficult,” she said.

The chapter hopes to further educate the community about the issue.

“We’re not going to change everyone’s opinions, but we’d just like to broaden their horizon,” Biagas said. “If we can get one person who walks out of that room thinking differently from what he or she did when walking in, I feel that’s a success, because that’s maybe one person that we’ve changed that could have a domino effect in our community.”

Biagas stressed the importance of educating others about the issues and providing comfort.

“Brother Thomas always said that the easiest way to help the community is to provide a means to education and to provide means for them to change,” he said.  “[They need] a comfort zone. What they need to see is that it is OK, there are people who love you, this is acceptable, you shouldn’t have to change who you are.”

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