Advice From 5 Latinx LGBTQ+ People and Allies on Coming Out
"The desire to be accepted, loved, and supported by your family is natural."
The world we live in shapes how we view ourselves—and how others view us. But what happens when there’s a mismatch between cultural narratives and individual identities? In our series The Blend, writers from multicultural backgrounds discuss the moment that made them think differently about these dominant narratives—and how that affects their lives.
Coming out isn’t a clean-cut, one-time process for anyone in the LGBTQ+ community. Realistically, it’s a continual situation that ends up being lifelong. You’re coming out every time your family gets your pronouns wrong, in your workspaces that default to heteronormative notions of relationships, or when your loved ones plainly don’t understand your identity and place assumptions on your life.
From concerns about your safety at school or in your workplace to apprehensions due to the discrimination faced by the LGBTQ+ community, coming out is a nuanced decision with much to take into account. The desire to be accepted, loved, and supported by your family is natural. And sadly, coming out can feel like a threat to that. While being "out" carries its own myriad of potential difficulties, it also provides a beautiful path for you to live as your full, authentic self.
With discussing the LGBTQ+ community in the U.S., it’s also important to discuss the distinct struggles that folks of marginalized backgrounds face in coming out and in living their lives authentically. The University of Chicago’s project, GenForward, found in their 2018 study, Millennial Attitudes on LGBT Issues: Race, Identity, and Experience, that Latinx millennials are the least likely group to identify as heterosexual. GenFoward’s research, which captures millennial attitudes on politics, race, culture, and more, reported that 22% of Latinx millennials identify as being part of the LGBTQ+ community, outranking the other groups that were polled. Though this research doesn’t provide the appropriate and necessary data of Afro Latinx LGBTQ+ individuals, it provides an indicator of how the millennial Latinx community self identifies.
The experiences of the LGBTQ+ community are not a monolith and neither is the Latinx community.
But it’s important to note that this intersectionality poses various cultural, religious, and gender norms that are embedded across Latin American groups. Because of these distinctions, coming out for Latinx individuals is a very multifaceted decision—but just know that you are not alone. You are beautiful for who you are and part of generations of LGBTQ+ people who love and support you without knowing you.
In my own experiences as a bisexual Latina, I struggled as a teen to find resources that would address the internalized homophobia that I felt was heavily influenced by my religious upbringing and cultural background. At the time, my struggle seemed specific to me and impossible to get over, but I know now that’s not the case at all. The Latinx LGBTQ+ community is large, loving, and here to help.
Compiled below are some tips by and for the Latinx LGBTQ+ community. Hopefully, these will help make your own coming out process a little easier.
How to come out:
Take your time being comfortable in your identity.
If you have any luxury of being able to plan when and how you’re coming out, know that it’s solely your choice. It may never feel like there's an ideal time or place to come out, but it's important to ensure to the best of your ability that you feel comfortable in your identity.
Practice saying positive affirmations out loud to yourself, like “I am LGBTQ+" and "I love myself.” If you’re able to, finding your chosen family can aid in your coming out process, too. By surrounding yourself with other LGBTQ+ people, you can feel empowered and confident in your identity.
Manny Lopez, 23, a Colombian gay man based in NYC, grew more comfortable in his sexuality “by learning more about other people's identities and seeing the common struggle people like [he] had.” By creating a support system for himself and others, he explains, “We were able to help each other grow by talking about why we felt certain ways and hearing from others why we shouldn't feel this internalized hate that we were conditioned to have to live in a heteronormative society.”
Knowing that you are supported by friends can not only help emotionally but also logistically in case of an emergency and you need a safe place to stay after you come out. Working with a therapist or otherwise participating in other mental health practices can help mitigate your stressors and internalized homophobia as you work towards coming out.
Assess your family's level of acceptance.
Before you come out to your family, start by assessing your family's spectrum of acceptance. This will help you decide how and when to come out, if at all. Think through if your family has strong religious affiliations or simply recall instances where others in the LGBTQ+ community were discussed. This is probably information you’re already aware of, especially if you’re living with your family.
Alexandria Ramírez, 26, a Mexican woman based in Dallas, TX, shares that her pride in being a proud trans Latinx woman stems from tapping into her own power as well as knowing that her family would accept her as she started her identity journey
But she recognizes that even then, she still initially felt “a sense of shame that was internalized” and notes that it seems, “many Latinx people support lesbians and gays but draw the line with trans folx.” By knowing her family’s views of the LGBTQ+ community, Ramírez was able to assess that coming out was the right decision for her.
However, this may not be the case for your family, as maybe your family has made their negative views of the LGBTQ+ community known to you. Nat B., 27, a nonbinary Mexican, based in San Marcos, CA, suggests planning for the worst-case scenario just in case—but to also remember that your life and identity come first.
“I was terrified but I came to the realization that waiting longer is not going to make it better or make it go away. Homophobia has always been present in my household, embedded with religion as an excuse for it,” they share.
Nat came out to their family twice: First initially as gay to which their mother took a few months to fully understand and for the second time as trans, to help make the discussion a bit easier rather than explaining what "nonbinary" means. They note that the second coming out was more difficult for their family but Nat has hope that, “they have reached a point where they are willing to listen and learn” and credits the ability to set aside personal offenses and lead discussions that are non-confrontational.
Find and share media that accurately represents you.
Providing your family with positive portrayals of the LGBTQ+ community via media exposure may help them understand your perspective and identity from a different angle.
A show that helped in my own journey was one I was already watching with my dad, Brooklyn 99. I like to think that seeing the bisexual lead Rosa Diaz, played by Stephanie Beatriz, a bisexual Latina IRL, helped break down some assumptions about the sexual identity. Her storyline shows a woman who is strong, funny, smart, and confident but also concerned about her parents' reaction to coming out. By having him see this representation by a likable character who isn’t perpetuating harmful bi stereotypes, he hopefully gained further empathy for the LGBTQ+ community.
You can even broaden the lens of media to social media accounts, podcasts, or even by sharing positive news about the LGBTQ+ community and key change-makers with them. This will, in turn, also help you be more comfortable in your identity.
Vic Rodriguez Tang, 33, a Peruvian queer nonbinary individual based in Austin, TX, shares that their media consumption has aided a lot in their coming out journey.
Doing the research on accurate media portrays, LGBTQ+ history, and even showing your family folks in the community who are thriving will help them understand that you will be okay and that you are part of a vibrant and supportive community.
Be ready for a conversation.
Depending on your family, they may want to talk about your identity and ask you questions. I know that this isn’t fair as straight, cis-gender folks don’t need to answer intrusive questions about their romantic and sexual feelings or their bodies but, unfortunately, your family may want to break this down.
For the Latinx community, the behavior of family being involved in your personal life, even to an unwanted degree, is normal and stems back to familism. Familism is the structural idea that the family unit is more important than the individual. This is a protective value that’s rooted in assimilation in the U.S. as well as the struggles of immigration as a whole and the desire to keep a united family. Familism can look like individuals in a Latinx household going above and beyond through financial or emotional responsibilities, familiar expectations, or in regards to coming out: an uncomfortable conversation.
Know that being prepared to explain definitions within the LGBTQ+ community, extinguish false stereotypes, or discuss basic frequently asked questions is a usual norm for anyone coming out. Stay patient, breathe through it, and know that if a conversation begins to get heated or if any abusive behavior arises, you have every right to take a step back to protect your energy. Being conscious of your emotional limitations will help you as you come out. There is no use in pushing yourself to please both them and yourself if those two are in conflict.
Help them learn how to become an ally.
As weird as it is to say, you coming out will also be a process for your family. I think this is something I personally didn’t realize. But even though you know this truth about yourself, remember that it may be the first time your family is understanding. As parents process this information, they can default to reacting out of fear of their child’s safety due to the violence against the LGBTQ+ community they’ve witnessed in the U.S. and Latin America. They may feel powerless as suddenly the life they’ve imagined for you is now a little different. I know that this is giving some parents the benefit of the doubt, so make the call for yourself if this is the case. Parents are on their own journey of navigating the community, so any help you can give them will help position them to advocate for you and celebrate your identity with you.
Laurie Suarez, 52, a Puerto Rican heterosexual and cis-gendered woman based in New Jersey, is a mom to an LGBTQ+ child and describes how after her daughter came out as trans, she jumped into problem-solving mode with no hesitation.
After trying to find therapists and doctors and pushing for her local school district to change bathroom signs, Suarez, now in hindsight, explains, “I think I would’ve taken things slower. I should've spent more time sitting and embracing my child instead of trying to make the world change for her.” Every parent will have a different approach so sharing with yours how they can help support you best is important.
For other parents of LGBTQ+ individuals, Saurez advises, “there’s no right or wrong way to feel when your child comes out to you. The only thing that’s wrong is not accepting your child for who they are.”
Breaking down easy ally actions like asking them to correct ignorant language and problematic actions within the family, use the correct pronouns or sexual orientations when referring to you, or love you the same as they did before, can help your family dynamic.
No matter what, remember that to be Latinx and also part of the LGBTQ+ community is beautiful. Though there is a strong stigma in the Latinx community for the LGBTQ+ community, they do not need to clash. Each community focuses on family, confidence in oneself, and overcoming adversity. These are vibrant communities of love, strength, and bravery—they both have histories of deeply rooted struggle against the status quo of anyone afraid or resistant to what they feel the "other" is. You will be okay.