by Jessica Carreras
The future of the Latino LGBT community has been bolstered, thanks to a $20,000 a year, two-year grant from the Arcus Foundation. Bestowed upon the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project, the grant will provide the necessary funding to begin a leadership program that, if all goes correctly, will culminate with the creation of an LGBT organization for Latinos and run by Latinos.
“The Latino community is one of the fastest growing minority communities in the country,” explained MAPP executive director and founder Craig Covey. “We think that their presence and voices and issues should be recognized and legitimized within the gay community.”
It’s not the first time that MAPP has provided programming specifically for Latino gays and lesbians. In the early 2000s, said Covey, there was a Latino program at MAPP that was geared toward outreach, education and support. But funding cuts in 2003 forced MAPP to do away with the program, leaving LGBT Latinos with virtually no resources in the community – and no organizations of their own.
This year, however, all that has changed.
State funding provided this year enabled MAPP to bring back the Latino outreach program called La Communidad, while the Arcus Foundation’s gift will allow for more extensive work in helping Latinos to both find their place in the LGBT community and build a community of their own.
The first – and most important – step, Covey said, is finding out who Latino LGBTs are and what they want.
The first six months of the project will involve extensive surveying, including creating focus groups, surveying members of the community and conducting individual interviews. “What we’re going to do is, we won’t sit around and wait for people to come to us,” Covey said. “We will go to Gigi’s and Backstreet, we’ll go to southwest Detroit and Menjo’s and we’ll talk to the folks.”
Of course, because many members of the gay Latino community speak Spanish primarily, the language barrier is something to grapple with. MAPP hired Adi Garza just a few weeks ago to help. Garza speaks fluent Spanish and will assist with much of the interviewing and surveying process so that metro Detroit’s LGBT Latinos can use whichever language they please.
The answers and statistics gathered will build the base for the programming that is to come – including where Latino LGBTs are likely to gather, what their issues are and who they are. “We’re not assuming that we know anything,” Covey said. “We’re starting from scratch and that’s the way this kind of program should happen. We don’t pretend to know anything about this diverse community.”
To help MAPP out in the learning process will be Latino individuals who have already identified themselves as leaders in the LGBT community. One of those people is Reynaldo Magdaleno, who has worked with MAPP in the past to organize, educate and front leadership programs for his community. This work, however, hasn’t gone very far. “Unfortunately, due to a lack of funding, we haven’t been able to do anything official,” Magdaleno said.
But Magdaleno will be there every step of the way as Covey and MAPP prepare to learn about Latino LGBTs and organize their community. Though Magdaleno’s position in the project is not clear yet, he will be instrumental in the process. “I will be doing some consulting to organize some programs within the community, as well as advising them on how to reach out to the Latino LGBT community,” he explained of his duties.
Magdaleno’s opinion will be crucial, as he provides the point of view of a gay Latino who lives in the community and has seen how it has changed. “The needs of the Latino community today are much different than what the needs were even five years ago,” he said. “The population has grown, and the Latino community, from what I’ve noticed, is not as closeted.”
And as an openly gay man, Magdaleno hopes to lead the way in both creating an organization for LGBT Latinos, as well as identifying other leaders in his community. “I see myself as an organizer, as a leader,” he said confidently, adding that he agrees with Covey that there is a need for more leaders to step forward.
Hopefully, throughout this new project, MAPP will find those leaders and train them so that in the near future, Latino LGBTs will have their own strong community organizations and groups. “We will identify Latino LGBT leaders and potential leaders and work with them on all the aspects of running and maintaining an organization,” Covey said. “…Our goal is to help them organize and to have a freestanding, independent organization with its own name and board of directors.”
Magdaleno echoed those hopes and is optimistic about the future of Latino LGBT people, comparing it to the process that black gays and lesbians went through in the past. “I applaud groups like the Black Pride Society,” he said. “With Hispanics and African-Americans being two of the largest minority communities…I’d like to see us come up with something similar to that. I’d like to see us follow their lead.”