I grew up poor in the projects of San Antonio, Texas, in a Mexican-American family, in a predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood. On the Westside -- just like Mayor Julian Castro and Congressman Joaquin Castro -- but on the poorer side of the Westside. I've known that I was gay since the first grade. But while Latinos are widely known for having close-knit, large extended families, certain issues we just don't talk about. And this was one of them. I finally came out to my mom at 22 and then we proceeded to never speak about it again. Don't get me wrong, my family was supportive. But they didn't say the words and I never asked for them. Until now.
Why talk about this now? This week the Supreme Court is hearing two landmark cases on gay rights. The first, United States v. Windsor, challenges the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which allows the federal government to discriminate against legally married same-sex couples. The other case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, challenges California's Proposition 8, an amendment approved by California voters in 2008 to strip same-sex couples of the freedom to marry. But it's not just the Supreme Court talking about marriage for gay couples -- it's in the news and popping up in discussion at dinner tables in every state. It's a perfect time to start the conversation with our families, and I call on all my hermanos y hermanas to lend your voices to a topic that silently resonates with every Latino family in America.
The good news is that no other group of Americans has evolved as quickly on this issue as Latinos. Study after study has found that Latinos recognize that every gay or lesbian person is part of someone's family, whether it be our hijo, hija, hermana, hermano, primo, prima, tío o tía - no one should be rejected, turned away. Many of us know this within our families, and it's been confirmed in public polls, as well. A poll conducted by ABC News found that nearly 60 percent of Latinos support marriage for gay and lesbian couples. One recent report commissioned by the Center for American Progress estimates that over 267,000 undocumented people identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. And Immigration Equality found that 64 percent of Latinos support including legislation that covers gay and lesbian couples in comprehensive immigration reform. All the evidence shows that Latinos support our gay family members, and the freedom to marry the person of your choice.
But how does that play out in real life? Like so many of you, I grew up going to my abuela's house every weekend, hanging out with all 20 of my primos y primas. And probably like some of you, too, a number of us have since come out as gay or lesbian. Sadly, some had it rougher than others, but for the most part, I have seen my gay and lesbian relatives taken in, embraced and loved as part of the family. Over time, I have seen our partners welcomed -- slowly at first, but later with increasing affection -- at family events. And while I take great pride in my family's response, I know we can do more still by speaking out on the important issues that affect us. Because this is not just about marriage. This is about familia. And as a family, we need each other to be present to break the silence about everything our family is facing, including discrimination and bullying against those who are gay or perceived to be gay.
So, this is an interesting contrast -- Latinos overwhelming support the freedom to marry but they won't talk to their families about it. It's time we change that. At Familia es Familia, a national public education campaign sponsored by Freedom to Marry in partnership with over 23 Latino civil rights and civic organizations, we have the resources to help Latino families have those conversations with our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters. Because let's face it: Your uncle, with his roommate of 10 years? They are more than just roommates. They are more than just friends. And that's ok, because in your heart that person is your family, too. Let's at last be frank and honest with one another. Let's celebrate our families, in whatever form they may come. They deserve our support in school, at home, and when they decide to marry.
When I was 19, my father asked me if I was gay. I couldn't muster the courage to tell him that yes, I am gay. I'd like to think that if I could do it over, I would handle the situation differently. But it's a hard thing to do when the subject is taboo. Let's change that together. Collectively, we have a chance to make life better for generations to come. Don't risk jeopardizing the precious bonds we have with each other simply because you failed to say the words that every person wants to hear: You're my family, and I accept whomever you choose to love. So, let's talk, everyone. After all, familia es familia.
Ya es hora!