Top Four LGBT Movement Truths Worth Exporting

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July 18, 2014
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Recently, I was honored to be invited by the US State Department to speak about Lambda Legal and the LGBT movement in the US for Pride month festivities at four US consulates in Mexico. While Lambda Legal does not bring lawsuits abroad, we do have a long-standing Spanish language and Latino educational outreach project, Proyecto Igualdad, and many educational resources in Spanish.  After 14 presentations, workshops, interviews and meetings in two and a half weeks with close to 250 individuals and dozens of organizations, here are 4 truths that resonated with folks south of the border, and one takeaway lesson for Lambda Legal.

Truth #1: Coming Out Works

The number one truth I wanted to share with LGBT activists in Mexico from what we have learned in the US is that when people personally know someone who is LGBT they are more likely to be supportive. And that the closer they are to that LGBT person, the stronger their support usually will be. For these reasons, I wanted convey the back-to-basics message of the importance of coming out, of being out, and being open to including others into our LGBT lives.

Mexican audiences, whether LGBT activists or city council members, were moved by the data that shows that the number one reason why a segment of the American public has changed their minds on marriage equality, for example, is not because of their belief in equality but because of the LGBT people in their lives.

At Lambda Legal, our clients know that they are committing to sharing their stories and being out, at least for the duration of their case, if not longer. Ultimately the stories of clients like Jamie Nabozny, Janice Langbehn and Robina Asti, to name a few, can have as much of an impact on the public as our legal briefs do in the courtroom. Coming out works, whether you are a Lambda Legal client or an LGBT person or ally sharing your story for the first time.

Truth #2: Family Acceptance Matters

The second truth that I wanted to share was the importance of family acceptance in the lives of LGBT people, especially LGBT youth.  I shared with folks the groundbreaking research from the Family Acceptance Project that shows the negative impact that family rejection has on the health of LGBT youth and how families are open to changing their behavior when informed of the negative consequences of their rejection.

Coming from a Mexican family, I understand that we are less likely to come out and let others into our lives if we don’t have supportive families cheering us on. That is why you can find educational materials for families in English and Spanish on our website and why we have defended California’s ban on ex-gay therapy, which only drives families further apart.

Truth #3: Go Forth and Diversify …and Specialize

There is a Mexican saying that goes “El que mucho abarca, poco aprieta” which roughly translates to s/he who tries to take in much, captures little. One of the slides that I showed Mexican audiences was of the plethora of LGBT organizations of all shapes and sizes in the US. I believe that both the diversification and the specialization of LGBT organizations in the US has contributed to its success.

Lambda Legal’s mission commits us to achieving our work  though impact litigation, education and public policy work. While there is much more work to be done that falls outside of those three areas, by focusing our work in this way we can deepen our expertise and expand our network of niche supporters. It also allows for other organizations to step in and do their part.

Understandably, the urge to want to do it all, or the pressure to do more, is greater when there are few institutions to begin with. Also, several straight allies asked whether having separate LGBT organizations for LGBT doctors, per se, was counterproductive to the ultimate goal of LGBT inclusion. While it might seem counterintuitive, LGBT people of all walks of life need to be visible and acknowledged before they, and as they, are included in the general community.

Truth #4:  Generations of Love

Finally, we know that greater LGBT acceptance in the US is part of  a generational shift.  After  40 years of outreach by LGBT organizations and individuals to help people better understand  LGBT issues  younger generations  have been more open and accepting of LGBT equality. Thankfully this seems to be the case in Mexico as well.

In Ciudad Juarez, I spoke with journalism students on their future professional responsibilities to just and objective reporting. Most of the students expressed being comfortable with LGBT people and some talked about having LGBT friends. I facilitated a “values clarification” exercise from our Moving the Margins training which allows them to identify their beliefs about LGBT people. I also pointed them to the excellent resources in Spanish for journalists from our sister national LGBT organization, GLAAD.

Some local professional journalists had stopped covering the LGBT community in general out of concern that they were causing more harm than good and fears of offending people or being sued . Despite these current challenges, with 50 percent of Mexico’s population under 29, the future of LGBT equality in Mexico seems to be bright.

Takeaway Lessons for Lambda Legal

While we know that just because something worked in the US, that doesn’t mean it will work in Mexico and vice versa. Still, Lambda Legal is committed to strengthening its work with Spanish speaking communities in the US. Towards that end, Lambda Legal sponsors Union = Fuerza, the Latino Institute at Creating Change, and we revamped our Spanish website. In fact, we are expanding our work with communities of color in general, through our focus on diversity and inclusion. Finally, we are also looking to develop more opportunities for dialogue and information sharing with and between LGBT advocates that are working with transnational communities, communities that go back and forth between various countries. Because when we are making the case for equality the power behind our truths doesn’t stop at the border, our communication shouldn’t either.

En español.

Proyecto Igualdad