BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – While the entire country celebrated the nation’s independence, Carmen Villalobos’ son, Pedrin Villalobos was getting ready to break free from the shadows he was living in. He decided to “come out of the closet,” to his mom.
“You’re just kind of stuck and in shock,” said Villalobos. “Wondering, what is next?”
Carmen found many emotions when her son admitted his true self to her, she immediately threw her support behind him and embraced her son. Deep down, Carmen had lots of love to give to her son but she wishes she would’ve had someone on speed-dial to help her understand what will happen next.
June marks LGBTQI+ Pride Month, which celebrates equality and visibility for the community. For LGBTQ+ Latinos, that means recognizing identity while raising awareness of disparities in health, their jobs and in their own communities.
“I began to look for a lot of help,” said Villalobos. “I wasn’t able to find much, especially in Spanish.”
A common roadblock even for bilingual, Latino members of the community. According to the NextGen survey project at the University of Chicago, 1-in-5 millennial Latinos, ages 18 to 35, identify as LGBTQ+. 61% of Latinx respondents believe discrimination still exists within their own community.
“I just wanted someone to tell me it was all going to be okay, but I couldn’t find anything,” said Villalobos.
Amid the scurry to find support in her own community, Carmen started “Detras del Arcoiris,” or “Behind the Rainbow,” an online group to connect Latinx parents who have LGBTQ+ kids.
Miguel Rios is an associate marriage and family therapist in Bakersfield. He works directly with families in and around Kern County, many of who might identify with one of the many sexual identities.
“It is really important to have mental health support,” said Rios. “There are many disparities that we encounter and when you add characteristics like being Latino or a lower socioeconomic status, then you really need it.”
Pride month comes with much jubilation for the Latinx queer community, but the recognition of their identity also forces them to raise awareness of the disparities their community faces in HIV and AIDS treatment, access to mental health care and the existence of workplace discrimination.
According to The Trevor Project, a non-profit focused on suicide prevention, Latinx LGBTQ+ youth are 30% more likely to attempt suicide than non-Latino youth.
For mental health experts like Rios, the value of family that Latinos have can be the tool to create a more accepting and loving environment. When Rios is not guiding the community to navigate its mental health, he is navigating the community in an intense spin or yoga course meant to give more than a sweat.
“When you feel confident,” said Rios. “No matter what kind of body you have, it shows, it then starts attracting you to the social settings you need to be in.”
Rios says educating parents about identity and the differences between gender and sexual fluidity can help create the space and support that Latinx LGBTQ youth lack.
“I can’t make people change their opinion,” said Villalobos. “If I can start by helping other parents make it easier for their kids, then that is fine, I’ve been there before.”
If you are interested in this community group you can find their Facebook page under Detras del Arcoiris.