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Gay Latinos Face Stumbling Blocks to Healthcare
by Jon Garbo

(New York, NY) -- The Latino community as a whole has made considerable economic and social strides in the United States. However, its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members face a number of obstacles that impede their overall health and wellness, said the executive director of the National Latina/o Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Organization (LLEGO) at the October 5th kick-off of its eighth annual conference.

"The purpose of the conference is for participants to find ways to bridge the disparity on a number of issues, including healthcare, domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health, HIV, breast and cervical cancer," said executive director, Martin Ornelas-Quintero.

Latinos are the largest and fastest-growing ethnic group in the US, yet they're the largest group without health insurance, Ornelas-Quintero said. The lack of insurance poses an obvious stumbling block to healthcare, yet Ornelas-Quintero also cited a variety other factors.

"As we look at health from a Latino/ Latina LGBT perspective, it’s important that we shatter the stereotypes that health should only be accessed after a long illness. We should move into a preventative health mode that includes mental health, healthy behaviors, and that ensures those with health insurance should access those services."

LGBT Latinos may also be reluctant to access healthcare because of homophobia on the part of healthcare providers, Ornelas-Quintero explained. "When a Latino or Latina enters into a physician’s office, assumptions are made that you’re straight. It requires the patient to bring up his or her own sexuality with the hope that it won’t interfere with quality healthcare. Many LGBT Latinos/Latinas do not bring it up," he added.

Racism factors in as well, said Ornelas-Quintero. "On one hand, you see that as an LGBT community, education to providers is occurring with a ‘white’ emphasis. On the other hand, you see quality, culturally-competent quality services for Latinos, but it’s equated with ‘heterosexual,’" leaving a void for much-needed Latino-sensitive LGBT care, he added.

HIV infection among gay and bisexual men and heterosexual women in the Latino community is on the rise, and a lack of resources is to blame, said openly-gay New York City Council Member, Margarita Lopez. "The resources that are going to be used are not fair to our communities," she said. Lopez urged voters to cast their ballots in November. "The [upcoming] elections will decide power in this country. Our LGBT communities must make sure they raise their voice loud and clear," she added.

While voting for public figures in important, addressing the social and cultural factors that have attributed the rise in HIV is crucial. "We are looking at social/cultural factors that place gay and bisexual Latino men at risk that are not being addressed. They’re not addressed by giving someone a condom, pamphlet or information. They’re addressed by creating a sense of community and family that is long-term."

The way LGBT Latinos and Latinas can build community, said Ornelas-Quintero, is by "first and foremost, creating safety in their minds and in their lives to come out."

Carmen Gomez, a lesbian mother who spoke at the conference, agreed. "We gather here because we need to recognize ourselves and accept ourselves so we can be a community."

Updated: Thursday, 5 October 2000


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