This year we’re celebrating Pride inside. Of course, marking June as LGBTQ pride month was never really about the parties – the month commemorates the Stonewall Uprising and the birth of the modern LGBTQ movement. And the parades were always about taking up space and showing just what LGBTQ folks look like – literally anyone (kind of like Latinxs).
Even though “parades” seem like something from a lifetime ago, we can still celebrate the progress towards normalizing and increasing LGBTQ visibility. And what better way to do that than by recognizing the many, amazing LGBTQ Latinas of the small screen? We Latinas may be the least represented when compared to our numbers in the population but that doesn’t mean that when we tell our own stories we’re not bringing our whole, multifaceted identities with us.
So celebrate Pride 2020 from with us – and these amazing LGBTQ characters.
The Lone Latina
For a long time if you saw a Latina on TV, she was the only one on-screen. We were just happy to be represented, grateful to be part of the main ensemble. And the same goes for LGBTQ characters. That’s why it’s so powerful that so many of these characters turned out to be gay AND Latina. Take Grey’s Anatomy’s Callie Torres and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Valencia Perez. Both started out as the other, desirable “exotic” woman who posed a threat to some white girl. But over time, they ditched the guy and started dating women with Callie ending up in the longest-running same-sex relationship on TV, certainly no small feat.
Those characters walked so Latinas like Hightown’s Jackie Quiñones and Brooklyn 99’s Rosa Diaz could run. Jackie Quiñones may be the lone Latina on her show but she’s finally the lead (and a complex, flawed one at that). Meanwhile, over at Brooklyn 99>, they’re breaking the whole “lone Latina” trope by having TWO of us and using that choice to represent our diversity. Pretty cool.
Latinxs are known to be one of the youngest populations in the US, one of the most Catholic, and one of the most family-oriented. That may sound like trouble to a gay, Latina teen but we are rich in positive coming-out stories. In One Day At A Time, elder sister Elena’s exiting the closet powers much of the first season and ends up with a pant-suit-wearing quince and a loving mom and Grandma. As Rita Moreno’s Lydia puts it “God doesn’t make mistakes. She is my granddaughter and I love her no matter what.”
And Elena isn’t the only one. On the Party of Five reboot, Lucia gets her mother’s acceptance before (or at the same time) as she gets her own. And on ABC’s The Beauty and the Baker, Natalie may have some trouble getting her mother to understand her but she never doubts her love. None of these Latinas lose their homes or their families or their safety because they’re gay. We Latinxs know how to do family and it’s about unconditional love – gay, straight, or queer.
Our culture is sometimes derided as primitive or superstitious, even as white folks take up limpias as their latest form of tourism. We’ve been in the business of reclaiming our traditions for a while and new Latinx shows ranging from Gentefied to Vida take our spiritual practices seriously. That said, there’s something particularly powerful about a character like Charmed’s Mel as played by Melonie Diaz. The Latinx reboot rewrote its three central witches as Latinas (although they only managed to cast one Latina actress in Diaz) and made middle sister Mel gay.
Charmed starts when Mel’s in her early 20s and although there are plenty of flashbacks, none are about her coming out. Mel’s sexuality is always just a given. She dates women, mostly women of color, and that’s that. There’s no judgment, othering, or even really discussion about it. She’s just a brown, gay witch, helming a network TV show. Like you do.
The Power Couples
We love a good love story and TV is giving us plenty when it comes to same-sex Latina love. Recently renewed for season two, Gentefied features Ana and Yessika as one of its central couples, following them from their teenage meet-cute to their present-day problems. So while the two break up at the end of the first season (over how to respond to their neighborhood’s gentrification no less), we have to believe there’s more in store for these two yet.
Over on the Spanish-speaking side, we were so happy that La casa de las flores ended with the wedding of Paulina and Maria José. Pau may have joked early on that she’d become a lesbian without even knowing it when Maria José transitioned but soon enough she was chasing her ex and lusting after her changed body. Maria José is probably too good for Pau (she’s just as smart and beautiful but a whole lot more connected to reality) but theirs is a romance that powered three seasons of over-the-top telenovela drama and proved that love can conquer all.
Life on Vida
Then there’s Vida Tanya Soracho’s recently completed tour de force is gay and Latinx down to the bone. The intersection of identities is baked into the show’s premise – two Chicana sisters (one queer) return to Boyle Heights after their mother’s death only to discover that the recently deceased had secretly married a woman (and got the family building and bar deeply in debt). From there, our heroines fall in and out of love, both romantic and familial, reconstructing their identities as they deal with gentrification in the present and uncover secrets about their past.<
This set up gives us a chance to break the idea that there’s only one way to be queer and Latinx. Gay sister Emma and Lesbian step-mother Eddy are incredibly different but the show accepts both the way they are. Emma sleeps with men, women, butches, and femmes, doing her best not to have feelings for any of them. Meanwhile, Eddy is a one-woman woman, grieving the passed Vidalia for the entire show, even when someone beautiful and interesting shows up. These two women’s love interests – Nico, Cruz, Vidalia, etc. – further round out the show’s LGBTQ representation, giving us a true diversity of experience, identity, and attraction.
The Triple Threat
Watching Pose is largely synonymous with falling in love with Mj Rodriguez’s Blanca. Blanca’s got the type of big heart that lifts everyone around her. She’s not perfect – she plays favorites and doesn’t know when to ask for help – but her performance is electric. And it’s only more so because of the challenges she faces: a transgender, HIV-positive Afro-Latina in the late 80’s and early 90’s. She’s a fighter who has to earn the respect of her community, fend off the prejudice of the outside world, and assert her humanity at every turn.
MJ Rodriguez is a triple threat and is surrounded on the show by similarly talented LGBTQ actors of color from Billy Porter to Indya Moore (who’s Puerto Rican and Dominican but doesn’t identify as Latina). We know there’s still a lot of prejudice within the Latinx community (see colorism), the LGBTQ community (the sidelining of transgender people), and the intersection of the two. But Pose, Blanca, and Mj are inverting those injustices and centering the most marginalized. They’d make the Stonewall rioters proud.