Lina Rodriguez, whose name has been changed because of her concern about family rejection, is one of those who has to stay “in the closet” much of the time around Hispanic friends. At the age of 20, she is still trying to determine when and how she will be able to tell her friends that she is gay.
A Hispanic gay has an especially tough time in the Latino community. Cultural taboos are strong and gender roles rigid. Coming out of the closet can be traumatic and difficult for gay Latinos fighting for respect and an end to stereotypes.
While gayness is rejected by the Hispanic culture, so is overt sexuality. The clash is not just between generations but also between cultures, with the American and Hispanic culture seen as having very different values in terms of how overtly one can express sexuality.
In Latin culture, according to experts on the subject of Hispanic culture, men and women have specific, defined roles. Men are to care for the family, a duty that is considered critical to the role of the father figure in the family. Women are to play a subordinate role. Although these stereotypes are shifting, there remain pressures to conform to these standards, which makes it difficult for individuals who live outside them.
The concept of machismo creates special problems in Latin culture, especially for women and minorities. Indeed it is part of the debate on the negative effect that rigid stereotyping may have on the rights of gays and the treatment of sexually-transmitted diseases, such as AIDS, in places like Hondruas and Mexico as well as other Latin American countries and places where there are significant numbers of Hispanics. Indeed it has been considered somewhat of a crisis in Latin America, given the shifting demographics in the population and the demand for change coming from feminist groups.
Machismo is a term used to emphasizes the male role as dominant in the culture that allows men freedom of expression in areas not allowed for women. Research has found that machismo traits can include the need to have more than one partner, failure to disclose HIV status, infidelity, and refusal to use condoms. Along with this is a high degree of belief that women should conform to certain sexual standards that require obedience to the family and its prescribed rules. This means that young men and women who step out of what machismo culture describes as the respect for the family and defined sexual roles have considerable difficulty if they step out of the family from their closeted places.
The Latino community rejection of gay and lesbian behavior creates health problems in the greater community since AIDS becomes unreported and has been growing among Hispanic men who have sex with more than one partner, including those who are both bisexual and homosexual. Vasquez hopes to educate the Latino community about the risks of AIDS and to remove some of the shame associated with homosexuality so that gays and lesbians can be accepted as equals in the community and so that sexually transmitted diseases are dealt with to lower the incidence and spread of AIDS.