WHEN YOU THINK OF LATINO COMMUNITIES in the U.S., generally the first places that come to mind are Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Miami, and the Southwest. But actually, we Latinos are all over this great country. Recently, qvMagazine spoke with Reynaldo Magdaleno, one of the coordinators of a Michigan Latino support organization called La Comunidad, and talked to him about what life is like for Latinos in the Great Lakes State.
How did La Comunidad get started? With the growing number of Latinos in Michigan, the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project recognized the need for a social group that could address the needs of Latinos in a culturally sensitive and appropriate manner. In Latino culture there is a big stigma among males about being QV and that stigma can sometimes lead to unsafe behavior. So in September 2000, the group was established to get Latino LGBTs to come and be a part of a communal faith environment, make some friends, pick up some information, and foster a sense of pride within themselves.
sort of activities does La Comunidad have? We have monthly support
group meetings at our chapters in Ferndale, Flint, and Lansing. We provide
a space for people to come and feel comfortable. We also have parties
at various clubs where we play a variety of salsa and cumbia music.
In addition, we have dinner parties, movie nights, home parties, attend
festivals, and much more. We also meet to coordinate events and field
What are some of the main issues you deal with at the support groups? Overall, we deal with the main issue of being QV and whether youre closeted or not. Our main purpose is to convey the message that were coming together to foster pride and to build a cohesive vibe within our own culture so that we can love and respect ourselves. Our groups talk about issues such as coming out, workplace issues, family values, relationships, and a wide variety of other things.
Are most of the people who attent the group just barely coming out, or is there a range? Its a mixture. We have those who are closeted, and others who are out. At first, that was a little bit of a problem because for those who werent out, it was a big step for them just to come to the program. But once we addressed the fact that everyone has to come out in their own time, it was fine.
How do you make a person feel more comfortable? Just let them know that theyre not alone. Thats the biggest thing. We let them know that by being involved with us, theyre always going to have somebody to talk to whenever they have questions or need someone to talk to.
Do you think its more difficult for QV people in your particular area? Michigan is conservative, but I think in the areas weve been working, the community is more open-minded. It hasnt been too much of a challenge.
On a personal level, what got you involved in this sort of work? Ive always been involved in the community. Ive been involved in non-profit work since 1999. My interest came from the fact that I love the community. And being Mexican and doing a group like this means a lot to me. I wish there had been a group like this for me when I was first coming out.
What was coming out like for you? I was a little afraid. I grew up in Detroit and lived a straight life where nobody knew about me. When I decided to come out, I sort of pushed away all the people I grew up with and created a new network of friendsjust in case my old friends rejected me. But when I did come out to my old friends, everybody was very accepting. Thats why I say the community around here is more accepting than other areas.
What have been some of the rewards youve felt as a result of being involved in La Comunidad? The reward I see is being able to provide a group where people who are just coming out can come together and make friends. The reward is being able to provide that for them.
What words of advice would you say to a person who is just now struggling to come out? The advice I would give is to love and respect yourself. When you love and respect yourself, it makes it harder for others not to love and respect you.
LA COMUNIDAD MEETING TIMES:
For more information about La Comunidad, please call Reynaldo Magdaleno or Ricky Feliciano at (248)-545-1435 ext. 15. or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out their website at: www.aidsprevention.org/lacomunidad/