After coming out to the religious extremist – also known as ‘mi familia Latina’ – and experiencing a feeling of being ostracized, I learned I had to fill that void by creating my own ‘family’ of friends. Acceptance of homosexuality, even in religious families, is more and more common and why shouldn’t it be? With more gay straight alliances sprouting up across our nation and television shows like Glee and Modern Family, mainstream America is seeing equality in a whole new light. But the need to surround ourselves with a support system and create a family environment is something our LGBT communities are all too familiar with.
As a male Latino raised in a Pentecostal household, phrases like “honor your mother and father” and “family first” were dictated everyday. Growing up knowing I was gay meant I should keep my thoughts to myself, or suffer the consequences and come out to my family. Had I come out at the time, they would have probably tried to remedy my ‘gay’ with prayer; because their beliefs were with enough prayer, anyone could be cured and saved. Had prayer not fended off the temptation, my family would have turned to the congregation for mass prayer – which would have essentially shamed my family and condemned me to the proverbial closet forever.
Needless to say, I didn’t grow up surrounded by anyone whose feelings resembled mine. There was no one to help diminish the stereotypes about gays and lesbians or as my family referred to ‘people who needed prayer.’ These were beliefs long engrained within my family, our culture, and our religion. Little did I know that later in life I’d find the people that would embolden me and promote my sense of pride.
It wasn’t until I made a career change and took a position as a traveling auto glass sales professional, that I met someone who became a dear friend and mentor. A successful entrepreneur and businessman in prior endeavors, Robertson was an award-winning sales professional that I looked up to, even before I knew he was gay.
He taught me many things, but not just about the auto glass industry. He shared the importance of surrounding yourself with like-minded people and creating a nurturing environment of support and acceptance. He was the first person I met who spoke openly about life as a gay man, about his loss of loved ones during the AIDS pandemic, and someone I consider my family today. Family that encourages my partner and I by giving us the love, support, and guidance to grow old together, advice that only family gives.
After about five years, I did gain the courage to come out to my family. I only hope that one day, the family I was born into and the family I have created, will see marriage equality in their lifetime and sit in the front row together at my wedding.
Felix Rivera is a HIV Case Manager at Compass Gay & Lesbian Community Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.