Latina lesbians face discrimination: study

By Esther Cepeda

To be studied is to be acknowledged, and if you are a Hispanic woman who is either a lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer — or questioning whether you are any of the above — your time has come.

The first research of its kind, “Latina portrait: Latina queer women in Chicago,” was released last week after years of struggling to gain funding for a comprehensive study of a population of women who have flown completely under the radar.

That’s despite the fact that, according to data analyses from the Williams Institute at the UCLA school of Law Census, women com­prise almost 60 percent of all Illinois same-sex couple households, and Hispanics are the largest ethnic minority in the state.

Through a joint project between Mujeres Latinas en Accion, a Latina advocacy organization, and Amigas Latinas, a support agency for lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning Latinas, this study, based on a sample of 300 women, begins to tell us how these women see themselves.

Aside from sharing a Hispanic heritage, 50 percent of respondents identified as lesbian/gay/homosexual; 9 percent as bisexual; 6.5 percent as queer; 4.5 percent as uncertain/questioning, and 10 percent didn’t use any of those labels. In terms of identity, 9.1 percent identified as “butch”; 26 percent as “femme,” and 29.2 percent said they don’t use these types of labels.

More importantly, the study shows us what these women face.

About 48 percent said they feel that there is a lot of racism in the Caucasian lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered community.

Similarly, 17 percent agreed that they are discriminated against because of their race/ethnicity in places specializing in services for predominantly Caucasian LGBT communities. Nine percent of the respondents indicated that racism was currently one of the greatest sources of stress in their lives.

They fare no better in the Latino community: 25 percent agreed that they feel discriminated against because of their sexual orientation in places servicing the Hispanic community and 54 percent of women revealed that they feel that most Latinos are not accepting of LBTQ women.

In terms of domestic violence, 49 percent reported that a female partner had tried to keep them from contact with family and friends. Forty-three percent of Latina LBTQ women reported having been pushed or hit by a partner. And 31 percent stated that a female partner had threatened to kill them.

Women not only stated that they were victims of female-on-female violence, but also admitted that they, too, had perpetuated violence. Forty-five percent said they had punched or hit a female partner and 23 percent had threatened to kill a past or current partner.

“The findings overall were shocking,” co-author Lourdes Torres told me. “We were surprised at the degree to which Latina queers felt discriminated against in the LGBT community and the numbers and nature of the domestic violence experiences.

“But though this is distressing information, there’s no reason to think there’s a pathological link to the community. There’s domestic violence in straight communities, too,” Torres said. “The purpose of releasing this data was to highlight issues so we know where we need to focus our efforts to meet the needs of the community.”

Torres said there is good news, too.

“We found that the vast majority of LBTQ women are out and have support from the people in their communities,” she said. “Part of what this information will allow us to do is learn about people’s positive experiences and develop ways to help others have positive experiences as well.”

Being studied is a double-edged sword. Awareness can lead to acceptance, but also to stereotyping.

Nevertheless, the risks of uncovering previously guarded secrets are far exceeded by the benefits of putting a lifestyle out in the open where it can be celebrated, nurtured and, when necessary, healed.