The majority of the United Kingdom’s Latin Americans live in London and there is no exact figure of how many of them belong to this community. Despite the sexual freedom that exists in London, many carry with them prejudices that replicate society’s homophobia and transphobia towards them. The psychological effect is almost inevitable.
In Latin America the level of discrimination against people who are not heterosexual is very high.
And this reality is carried by immigrants to the country they arrive in, since they have beliefs that prevent them from accepting their sexual orientation and even put their lives at risk.
This is reflected in the report Prejudice Knows No Borders, published by Non-Violence LGBTI, which documents how in the last five years more than 1,300 people from this group have been violently murdered in the region. This happens because in a culture with an exaggerated rejection of this community, speaking of sexuality has become taboo.
That is the opinion of Carlos Corredor, Latin America Services Manager for NAZ: Sexual health for everyone, who says that Latin Americans experience culture shock in London.
He explains that as there are fewer cultural restrictions regarding sexuality, they have very open behaviour and can explore their preferences, and they forget that they are vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases. According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2018 in the United Kingdom 1.2 million people aged 16 years or over identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB), with London being the city with the greatest proportion: 2.8% of its population.
However, for a country that seems to accept sexual diversity openly, often there is no real protection of the rights of sexual and gender diversities.
An illustration of this is the historical invisibility of the immigrant LGBTI community in the censuses, which leaves the figures for all ethnic groups uncertain, including Latin Americans who belong to the community.
Corredor, who has spent over two decades at NAZ, asserts that he has seen changes in London, but that self-discrimination still exists. An example is that some Latin Americans, because they are homosexual, tend to be hairdressers. Carlos tries to show them other perspectives, so that they can become professionals and show their potential in society.
About this, about the absence of figures, the prejudice and the culture shock that some Latin Americans experience regarding their sexuality, Corredor spoke to The Prisma.
How do Latin Americans behave in terms of their sexual orientation?
Many men who have sex with other men do not identify themselves as gay. They think the homosexual person is the one who plays a receptive or passive role in the relationship. I have known cases of men who go drinking alcohol with their friends on a Friday evening and when they are drunk they look for other ways of continuing the fun and end up having homosexual relations through curiosity or because they have had a few drinks.
This reluctance to talk about sexuality leads to risky sexual behaviour in the Latin American community. A large percentage of sex workers are Latin Americans.
One in eight men who have sex with other men were born in Latin America and have been diagnosed with HIV.
Homosexual Brazilian men are the second largest group of HIV cases, in other words, they account for 56% of cases of the virus in London.
How do you see the transition from such a conservative society to a more open society?
Sexuality is a very important part of being human, we will never be able to tell people not to have sex.
When you are given negative messages about your sexuality from early childhood or from a very young age, it marks you and it makes you unhappy. When you are gay, you feel your sexuality from when you are a young child but you hide it when you hear comments on the subject. For example, a mum or a dad who says to their child: I would prefer my child to be a criminal rather than a homosexual.
If someone puts you lower than a criminal on the social scale it is because culturally being a homosexual is very bad.
What self-confidence is a child who thinks he is a criminal going to have? It makes people hide their sexuality. When a Latin American arrives in London, they feel freer and less tied to their culture. I have seen cases of couples who end up separating because at some point one of them could not conceal their sexuality any longer. In such cases, there are people who suffer the consequences of marital breakdowns that could have been avoided if the truth had been accepted within the family, the social circle and the culture.
Can Latin Americans come to question their sexuality when they arrive in London?
It’s a real culture shock. When you come from a Latin American country where sexual freedom is quite restricted and you arrive in a place like London where sexuality is more open, people are flabbergasted.
Handling that new freedom leads them to have a very broad sex life. It puts them at risk because the more sexual relationships you have with different partners, the more likely you are to catch sexually transmitted diseases or HIV.
Immigrants are very vulnerable because they are alone and need company. So they consider anybody a friend and, as a result, that person has power over them and the immigrant may suffer abuse not only sexually but also in terms of exploitation in the workplace, abuse of trust…
To what extent does the Latin American immigrant community maintain its prejudices with regard to the LGBTIQ community in London?
Latin Americans here are not very different to how they are in their countries of origin. We carry within us our own bag of beliefs. When you are an immigrant you realise that there is a lot of prejudice, it is part of our genetic make-up learnt from years in the culture, which is why we experience rejection, starting with ourselves.
Is it difficult for the Latin American community to talk about this subject?
Yes, the normalisation of sexuality is very important because sex is natural just like any other aspect of being human. It is so important that thanks to sexuality the human species survives, however, we don’t want it to be visible because our cultural baggage makes us ashamed of it.
It is important that people talk about sex, that people normalise it.
The best way for a young person to get information is through their parents, but it never really happens because the parents are too embarrassed to talk about the subject and the children are too embarrassed to ask.
Is there any major psychological effect on the Latin American LGBTIQ community with regard to their sexual orientation?
Yes, people of any sexual orientation need to have a space to talk about it. It is very important to be clear what you are and what sexual preferences you have. When we say that someone is confused it is because their body tells them one thing and their culture tells them another.
At that point the person is not clear what they want which prevents them from being happy, from living a full life, from exploring, or they decide to have an emotional relationship with someone because they are not sure what they are. At NAZ we offer psychological care so that the person reaffirms themselves and is clear on what it is that they want. We also offer support to trans people and we refer them to specialist clinics.
(Translated by Philip Walker – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org) – Photos supplied by Carlos Corredor/NAZ