Iowa LGBTQ Latinos Celebrate Intersectionality

Jun 16, 2020

A buzzword in today’s society is intersectionality. It describes how one person is made up of multiple identities. It includes things like race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender, among other things. All of those aspects make up a person.

For Fabio Vidal of Des Moines, he intersects as a Puerto Rican and as a gay man.

“There are these cultural archetypes that are created that are made to make people feel like if you are feminine or you have effeminate traits, you don’t belong or you don’t exist. So I feel like in the Latino community, it’s very often that everyone knows it’s there, but we just don’t talk about it,” Vidal said.

Vidal is both an apprentice tattoo artist and performs drag some nights. He said he found the ultimate freedom of expression in both of his jobs. Vidal said his mother is the one who instilled in him the confidence to show the world who he is.

Rafaela Vidal raised Fabio and his sister as a single mother. Vidal described her as a typical Latina mother. They went to church, participated in school activities and reflected Puerto Rican culture. 

Vidal said the church is initially what caused him to hesitate before coming out to his mother. The Vidal family went to the Church right after Iowa legalized same-sex marriage. Vidal feared his mother agreed with the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality.

“Christian faith is really important and really big in the Latino community. And so that also adds another element of pressure that can be hard to deal with," Vidal said.

This feeling is not uncommon for Latinos, according to Gabby Guerra Ceron.

“Coming out to your family and saying I’m gay or I’m lesbian or I’m bisexual, that is not an easy thing to do, right?" Guerra Ceron said. "Because you have your abuelitas and your aunts and uncles telling you that that’s not okay because of religion."

Guerra Ceron is the co-president of the Iowa Queer Communities of Color Coalition within the Iowa Department of Human Rights Office of Latino Affairs. She said those who intersect between the queer community and the Latinx community face different obstacles than those in the white and queer community.

“I think one of the biggest things is that access to privilege if you are white, you have a certain level of privilege in different spaces that people of color are not afforded. And black and brown people do not have that,” Guerra Ceron said.

According to the Human Rights Campaign website, Latinx and LGBTQ individuals can face immigration and language barriers, but they are also more vulnerable to economic insecurity, violence, harassment and health inequity.

A 2019 data analysis by the Williams Institute of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles found 21 percent of the LGBT community are Latinx.

For Stephanie Jiles, she wanted to surround herself with more diversity. She grew up in a majority Latino and black community, but moved to Des Moines when she was 13 years old. She is a lesbian woman who said she is of mixed race, often confused for being Puerto Rican. So on the outside, she said she looks different than a "standard Iowan." She left Iowa when she was 19.

“I grew up used to being around all different kinds of people and it is a vital part of my life. I love diversity. I love being around different people. I love learning different cultures," Jiles said. "And I just didn’t find that in Iowa.”

Jiles admitted though that maybe she did not give Iowa the best chance. Fabio Vidal said Iowa, specifically Des Moines, was a great place to grow up, as the environment, with the help of his mom, taught him to express himself freely. But, there’s still some work to do.

“But I do also feel like we need people here to push the progressive movement forward because otherwise there's just going to be a lot more little gay boys and girls that are like, just dying to leave, you know, and they should be able to feel at home here and feel welcome here,” Fabio Vidal said after a long pause.