Family is everything to me. Growing up my dad would always say “No hay nadie como la familia”, and when I moved from Inglewood, California to Sacramento, a little less than 400 miles North, for college, I finally knew what he meant. I missed my family, but most of all, I just missed being surrounded by people who understood me. I’d always known I was different, but I didn’t have the language or knowledge to fully accept my identity. As I confronted the complexities of my sexuality, I craved a community that would acknowledge and validate my emotions. It wasn’t until my second semester at Sacramento State University when I was hired at the PRIDE Center on campus that I found my space and uncovered the true meaning of chosen family.
For the Latinx LGBTQ+ community, chosen families are a familiar concept. From the early days of ballroom and house culture to today’s worldwide Pride festivals, we search for people like us to forge our families and challenge the traditions of our cultura. You see, we’ve come a long way, but the Latinx community still has work to do in accepting our queerness. A recent study by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation found that 72 percent of LGBTQ+ Latinx youth have heard negative remarks about the LGBTQIA+ community from family members. These comments create an unsafe environment for LGBTQIA+ youth to explore their identity and come out due to fear of rejection or retaliation. This is especially detrimental when we consider that 40 percent of homeless youth in the U.S. identifies as LGBTQIA+ with the primary factor being lack of acceptance and support from family members. As Latinxs, we often feel indebted to our families for their sacrifices and the pressure to fulfill their hopes and dreams is real, but we deserve to put ourselves first and live authentically. We deserve love and acceptance, and most of all, we deserve a supportive community and that’s where chosen families come in.
“My chosen family nurtures me by giving me the space and love to be the person that I am. I don’t have to explain anything. I can exist and be free with them,” says Yozantli Lagunas Guerrero (they/el) who found their chosen family after high school. Attending college far from home in Sacramento was the liberation they were looking for to explore their intersecting identities. It gave them the freedom to ask questions, meet new people, and build intimate bonds with other queer Latinx folks. An active member in their community, Yozantli says they enjoy holding space for others and allowing them to express their emotions.
“If I can help anyone process feelings or hold space for them…say less, I’m there.” Yozantli is uniquely in tune with their emotions and use that ability to help LGBTQIA+ youth find their space in the world through their invaluable work with the GSA Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making schools safer, changing communities, and building power for the next generation.
“They [chosen family] make such a huge difference in allowing me to believe in myself. Many of my chosen family have seen me grow in so many ways, witnessed my healing journey but also stayed by my side when things got rough and continue to support me always,” Yozantli explains. Having the choice to form their own family empowered Yozantli to grow freely and flourish as their true selves while feeling safe and affirmed by their community.
For Adri Aruz (she/her), chosen family gave her the opportunity to really get to know herself. “I truly believe that I would not know parts of myself had I not surrounded myself with who I feel comfortable to really speak my mind, be myself, whom I love and love me.” Moving from South Gate in Los Angeles to Santa Cruz some 300 miles North for college was an easy choice for Adri, who was struggling to express her true identity at home.
“I always felt like I couldn’t truly be myself with my blood family. The judgment and also religious influence made it so that being out to my family seemed so intense and stressful.”
For many LGBTQIA+ Latinx, religion plays a big role in suppressing their queer identity due to misinformation of our community and fear of judgement. “I naturally gravitated toward friendships and felt like I could be myself. As the years went on I realized these are the people who were there for me in moments of joy, pain, adventure, growth; truly genuine authentic moment. I don’t feel like I am being judged.” During college, Adri established formative friendships that went beyond the four-year journey. Reminiscing on the moments she realized she found her forever family she says, “The freedom that comes with being your authentic self is priceless, and to then be able to share that with others, have that vulnerability, that empowerment, [and] be reciprocal, is incomparable.”
As I reminisce on my own experience, I realize the important role my chosen family played in my journey. I grew up in a loving home, but it took leaving my house to realize something was missing. All the things I thought I knew about myself were suddenly changing and although it was scary at times, I knew I had my community to fall back on. From helping me find my voice through campus organizing to giving me a shoulder to cry on after my first queer heartbreak, my chosen familia was there to uplift me when I needed it most. They were my friends, my teachers, my therapist – everything. I learned to love myself as a queer brown gordita by watching the others around me fearlessly embrace themselves without conditions. They showed me the magic within me by encouraging me to live authentically and before I knew it, I was blossoming into the very person I needed as an adolescent. In many ways, they saved me and gave me the love and validation that I needed to survive in a new city. I am eternally grateful.
Although our college years are long over, we still keep in touch through the world of social media. In today’s digital era, we are lucky to have the internet as a way to connect with each other. Social media can also serve as a powerful tool to gain access to information, resources, and community building for Latinx Queers. Familia: TQLM, an organization that works at the local and national levels to achieve collective liberation for the LGBTQ+ community, brings our gente together on social media through local events and educational resources for important issues pertaining to the Latinx LGBTQIA+ community. Storytellers like Fei Hernandez (@fei.hernandez) are also paving the way on social media with their unapologetic voice and artistry that inspires their followers to advocate for empowerment and liberation. With LGBTQIA+ youth in the US spending an average of 45 more minutes online than their counterparts, the internet can be a safe space for exploration without judgment for our community. Even when all hope feels lost, we got us. We are worthy of love. We are worthy of acceptance and we are worthy of a familia that loves and supports us.