Machismo, Tradition, and Culture in Latin America

By Pilar Baker – As a representative of the Spanish speaking Madres Dragones group, I receive messages from worried LGBTQ youth and/or their mothers who are suffering and afraid to express their feelings to their loved ones. Often the individual’s self-esteem and identity are strongly affected by his or her relationship with family members. Living in a Latin country where machismo is part of the culture and traditions are well marked, makes the process of coming out for our LGBTQ children quite difficult.

In Latin America, most boys are encouraged by their fathers and/or culture to be masculine, dominant and authoritative. Some mothers are afraid to help their children who don’t live up to these characteristics for fear of facing their husband’s disappointment and/or violence. Other mothers, despite challenges and fears, become empowered after finding groups like Madres Dragones, where they feel understood. We Madres Dragones are mothers of LGBTQ children ourselves, and know what many of these frightened mothers are going through. We have been in their shoes. We walk with them, step by step, answering their questions and sharing our own heartfelt experiences. This, in turn, helps them find peace, develop the strength they need to face their challenges, and to support and love their child.

In 2013, our teenage son was depressed and we didn’t understand the reason why until we found out that he is gay. My husband and I shared our understanding, love and support to him. We let him know that we are together on this journey. Because of our love and support our son felt a huge weight lift from his shoulders and his smile came back to his face. A year later he came out to his brothers who also showed unconditional love and support for him.

We were worried about our society’s lack of understanding and harmful church statements that affect our LDS-LGBT members. Our support as a family increased through the contact of different groups that educated us and helped us to navigate and positively balance the changes and challenges that sometimes come from having a family member who is LGBTQ.

As a Peruvian, my extended Latino family members are a combination of LDS, Catholic, and Pentecostal with a strong cultural background and the long-held belief that not only is marriage just between a man and a woman but that being gay is a choice. We knew that sharing our news with them could be challenging.

Before we spoke to my extended family, my husband and I prayed for guidance. We invited my family over and sat with them to share the news that our son is gay. There were a variety of reactions, as we expected. The room was filled with confusion, skepticism, paranoia, tension, and opinions. We listened calmly and allowed them to express their concerns and doubts and to ask many questions. They had concerns about how to tell their own children. They were disappointed that we were just “giving up.” They were concerned that our son, who they loved, was going to Hell, etc. We embraced the situation as smoothly as we could, respecting their questions and thoughts and explaining that our son’s sexual preference doesn’t change his trustworthiness, kindness, principles or values. We also shared that being gay is not a sickness, nor a mental issue.

We let them know that they could deal with this news however they had to, but that they needed to respect that our family was united in our support of our son. They would have to decide how they wanted to handle family reunions and parties, knowing that we come as a group that includes all members of our family and their significant others.

This meeting let them know our position. We expressed our love and gratitude for each of them, along with the love and respect we have for our son. One week later we were happily surprised during a family gathering at the home of one of our son’s uncles. The two uncles who had been the most vocally opposed at our earlier meeting, each made it a point to give our son a big hug, showing by their actions how they are choosing to deal with the situation.

Young people who are coming to terms with their sexual orientation often face psychological and emotional trauma in their daily lives. We are starting to see small steps of change for good in our Latin American country. Parents are a vital key in helping to support their children against machismo, culture and traditions that can harm their LGBTQ children. We must continue creating a safe world for all of our friends and family. We can best do this through education, understanding and love.

Pilar Baker, wife, and mother of three wonderful boys
Manager, Administrator, and Moderator of Madres Dragones