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Focus on the Familia

There I was, sitting in the second row of St. Margaret Mary Church Guadalupe, staring at my grandmother’s casket. The tedious services were in Spanish and my grief made it hard to stay focused on the words. I was angered to be in the Catholic Church my grandmother loved so much.

I had sat in this church so many times over the years, knowing that although “the church” was against me, my grandmother loved me.

With that thought, I was overcome with hope through my hurt. No, it wasn’t a religious revelation. I spun around in my seat to look back and see the pews packed with conservative catholic Latinos who were all a part of my grandmother’s life and none of whom voted ‘Yes on 8.’ The priest’s words were suddenly drowned out by a rush of thoughts in my mind. How did this anomaly occur? What created this unique experience?

Familia!

Sure one might think… "oh, of course, the marriage activist guy has supportive friends and family." This wasn’t always the case though. I didn’t even directly know many of the attendees, but that’s where the miracle happens.

I can still hear the sting of my Mexican, catholic, Vietnam-veteran father’s voice when Matthew Shepard’s murder was first on TV: “The only good faggot is a dead faggot,” to which I turned to him and said, “Really dad? I’ll put the gun to my head and then all you’ll have to do is pull the trigger.”

That, my friends, is how I came out to my father. Suddenly his blind discrimination turned to fear and concern. Over time he would become one of my most vocal advocates.

See, we Latinos are really big on the whole family thing. Sure we may yell, fight and disagree, but the bottom line is that you don’t mess with family. Whether your kid is gay or in a gang, you defend your child, nephew, grandson, or whatever.

Honestly most people in my family still don’t really understand what I do, but they know I’m gay. They also know I was married to a man they called my husband for six years. So there you are, my aunts and uncles, grandmother, father, and countless cousins all had conversations with their friends and coworkers over the last 15 years about their gay relative that they love very much. I didn’t have to convert a church full of people. My loved ones did the fighting for me. Once it was established that Fernando is gay and family, suddenly all that mattered was the family part.

To tie this into strategic value, we have organizations that send out their volunteers to areas that are predominantly “people of color,” where we then see our highest rates of positive persuasion, in contrast to mostly white folks. We’re not quite sure why this is yet. My earliest inclination is that to Latinos, this conversation is new. While most white English-speaking folks have heard about “gay marriage” to a boiling point, that message simply hasn’t permeated Latino culture or kitchen tables in the same way. The conversations that work out in the field are about family. America is supposed to be the land of opportunity and that translates to Latinos as opportunity for the whole family, not just some of their family.

Voters in LA elected our first openly gay Assembly Speaker John Perez because he was Latino. Polling showed that he didn’t test well on the gay thing, but once campaigners throw in that Perez was Latino, fellow Latinos were SOLD!

Latinos are a large part of California and therefore Queer Latinos are an underrepresented group. A quick review of papers put out through the Williams Project shows that LGBT Latinos are more economically disparaged than their white LGBT counterparts and more likely to be raising their own biological children. Don’t even get me started on the binational couples and immigration issue. Bottom line is Latino families have a lot to gain from full legal marriage protection, although Latino communities may not yet fully understand those ramifications.

People ask what that magic word or phrase there is, that will move Latinos so we can win the next marriage vote. As a Latino working in the marriage field and the son of a family that worked in the fields, I’m here to tell you it’s all about family. No TV ad is going to win over your abuela’s heart when it already belongs to her gorgeous granddaughter. No Priest is going to tell your papa that he can’t protect his precious pride and joy. The conservative want people to believe that they are ‘protecting family,’ but they have a thing or two to learn from us Latinos, ‘cause when we say family, we mean everyone.

Dedicated In loving memory to my abuela, Juana Lopez.

Fernando Lopez is the former San Diego Chapter Leader for Marriage Equality USA (MEUSA) and former regional field organizer for Equality California, as well as the founder of the Marriage of the Minds coalition. He currently sits on the National Board of Directors for Marriage Equality USA.