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It's Hard To Tell La Familia You're Gay

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Coming out to your family as gay or lesbian can be an excruciating experience, and it is no less so if you're part of a Latino family.

To make that conversation easier, Familia es Familia (Family is Family), a national public education campaign, launched a bilingual website and uses social media to, among other things, open the dialogue about accepting LGBT people in Latino families.

Catherine Pino, a Virginia-based communications consultant and co-creator of the Familia es Familia campaign, says those conversations can be difficult because Latinos care deeply about family relationships and don't want to risk offending anyone.

"There's a lot of young Latino LGBT people out there who are afraid to come out because of rejection from their churches, their families, their friends," Pino says.

Samantha Moreno, of Phoenix, has been with her girlfriend for nearly 12 years. In a video produced by Los Angeles-based multimedia group Cuentame, she says coming out to her family was a painful experience.

"It's going to be 12 years in August since my dad has even said a word to her," Moreno says. "Does that hurt? Yeah!"

More than 20 national Hispanic organizations have endorsed the campaign, but polls suggest that Latinos are no less tolerant to gays and lesbians than mainstream America. Overall, two-thirds of Latinos say they are OK with homosexuality.

But there are still deep divisions among Latinos over the question of homosexuality, says Luis Lugo, who directs the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life.

"There is a significant gap between first-generation and second-generation Latinos on this question," Lugo says, "in fact, about a 15-point gap, with second-generation Latinos being much more accepting of homosexuality in society than foreign-born Latinos."

Other polls show that even among Latino Catholics a strong majority support legal recognition of same-sex marriage. But the same cannot be said for Latino evangelicals, according to the Rev. Gabriel Salguero of New York, who directs the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, which promotes a traditional view of marriage.

"I do think at the same time we are not homophobic and we encourage civil discourse," Salguero says. "So I think conversation is never a bad thing if at the very least you give each other the dignity of listening to each other, even if at the end of the day you disagree."

The campaign wants Latinos' coming-out experiences to be more like the one Joshua Abeyta had with his mother, Diana.

Over dinner at Diana's house on a quiet suburban cul-de-sac in the San Francisco Bay Area, the two recall the car ride a few years ago when Joshua told his mother he was gay. Now in his 20s, Joshua, a political communications specialist, says it was hard just to start the conversation.

"But I just said 'Hey Mom, I have something to tell you: I'm gay,' " he says. "And she told me that, 'Yes, yes I know. I've known since you were 5. I love you. Your father loves you. And we don't have a problem with it.' "

What Diana remembers is how nervous Josh was. "And I remember thinking: It's about time," she says.

Pino says the Familia es Familia campaign isn't only about trying to change attitudes within the Latino community but also about broadening the awareness of existing LGBT groups.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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