“Somos Familia” Event

“We’re here, we’re queer, we ain’t going anywhere,” was the chant of some 50 members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community as they marched along Van Nuys Boulevard in Panorama City, as a prelude to the 1st Annual San Fernando Valley Latin@ Pride Conference.

Titled “Coming Out of the Shadows,” the Oct. 12 event included a number of workshops for young LGBT teens and parents to bring awareness to issues affecting this community. They included discussions about sex education, how to stop deportations, family acceptance, and how to face bullying, one of the major problems confronting LGBT youth.

“There was also a workshop for parents to express their concerns, on signs they can pick up to stop bullying and relate to their child,” said Jennifer Callejas, a therapist at Bienestar, the nonprofit organization hosting the conference.

“We’re trying to stop homophobia and stop the bullying of LGBT youth, and lessen the events that hurt people,” added Callejas.

In a 2005 survey, teens reported that the number two reason they are bullied is because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender expression. The number one reason was because of appearance.

In fact, about nine out of 10 LGBT teens have reported being bullied at school within the past year because of their sexual orientation. This problem often leads to low self-esteem, and can have dire consequences.

According to bullying statistics, gay and lesbian teens are two to three times more likely to commit teen suicide than other youths. About 30 percent of all completed suicides have been related to sexual identity crisis. Students who also fall into the gay, bisexual, lesbian or transgendered identity groups report being five times as more likely to miss school because they feel unsafe after being bullied due to their sexual orientation.

Callejas said she has seen this firsthand with people who visit Bienestar.

She witnessed clients who were shut down by their own families, and people being harassed and discriminated against in so many different ways because of their sexual orientation.

“We also have cases where sexual orientation prevented people from getting jobs,” she said.

The discrimination is sometimes more prominent in the Latino community, where cultural views and stereotypes about LGBT are often acute.

“We want people to be more aware, and particularly the Latino community,” Callejas said. “We had never done anything like this (conference) and we felt it was important to talk about these issues.”

The conference was also a way for people to connect, appreciate each other and take pride about who they are, she said.

As part of this, the event included a showcase of artistic works that describe how LGBT young artists see themselves.

“A healthier Valley starts with us; no ‘queer’ or ‘trans’ sibling left behind,” noted Ronnie Veliz, San Fernando Valley President of Somos Familia, the group that put together the event.

It’s a sentiment shared by Bamby Salcero, founder of the TransLatina Coalition and one of the presenters at the conference, who stressed the importance of taking the information learned at the event to the rest of the community.

“We’re all activists in our own way. Please take that home with you,” she said.

Callejas agreed.

“We wanted to create connections, and let people know that regardless of your sexual orientation, we can help,” she said.

For more information, or if you need help, visit the San Fernando Valley Center of Bienestar, located at 8134 Van Nuys Blvd., Suite 200, in Panorama City. The center is open Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Call (818) 908-3820 for further details.