Sometimes parents’ dreams for their children are deferred or redefined. One of those instances is when parents have to face the reality of having a gay son or daughter. For Fela Rodriguez, an elementary school teacher, knowing that her daughter was gay represented a shock that took her years to overcome.
“She almost killed me,” Rodriguez recalls. When her daughter told her she was gay, Rodriguez’s first instinct was to go to bed and simply not talk about it, a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ attitude that is typical of many Latino families. Yet, Rodriguez’s daughter forced her to face reality and talk about it. “That was only the beginning of a long journey of acceptance,” Rodriguez said.
When her two daughters were little girls, Rodriguez remembers having gay neighbors who were very nice people “but it is different when one of your children happens to be gay,” she said. Rodriguez grew up in a Catholic home where she was taught that homosexuality was a sin. “Knowing that I had a gay daughter forced me to reevaluate my beliefs,” she says. As a mother, I knew my daughter’s qualities and goodwill, and I could not accept that my daughter was a sinner.”
Her daughter sent her books and articles about parents with gay children. Among the reading materials, Rodriguez remembers Love, Ellen: A Mother-Daughter Journey written by Ellen DeGeneres’s mother. This book was of special help in Rodriguez’s own journey to acceptance. “It was very hard,” she recalls. “Then you have to come out to your friends and a different type of journey begins, having to face bigotry but also receiving acceptance from some of your friends.”
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Latino children who are rejected by their parents are the other side of the story. Many Latino gay people don’t even dare to tell their parents about their sexuality, for fear of being rejected. That is the story of Alexander Gonzalez (not his real name), a 21-year-old college student from Venezuela who lives in the proverbial closet for fear of being rejected by his parents. “My mother is very religious, she thinks homosexuality is a sin and my father is machista and very traditional. He thinks men are homosexuals because they had some sort of trauma in their lives,” Gonzalez says. His dream is to be able to have a “normal” relationship with whoever he decides to love. He tries to be a good role model for his two younger siblings. Living with integrity is important for Gonzalez, but sadly, “the Latin community is not ready to accept homosexuality as something normal,” he said.
According to Rodriguez, the key for parents is to learn from their children and to understand that it is okay to be different. Although Gonzalez does not hold out hope that his parents to accept him due to their religious beliefs, he hopes that society in general can increasingly accept the “gay issue” as a human rights issue. With more and more U.S. states approving gay marriage and civil unions, it appears we are headed in the right direction.