Monday, July 16, 2012

Lessons From the Latino Playbook: Emphasize Family and Love More Than Rights

Philippine and Hispanic cultures have so much in common.  Heavily influenced by the 16th- and 17th-century culture of Habsburgian Spain of old, the parallels between the two in terms of family life, customs, mores, and of course, Roman Catholic religion, are easily recognizable.

It is because of this commonality that I took notice of something that happened in the U.S. last week.  A coalition of 21 different Hispanic organizations, whose members range from second and third-generation Hispanic-Americans to recent immigrants from Central and South America, announced a joint pro-LGBTQ equality campaign.

The name:  Familia es Familia, or in English, "Family is Family."  Its aim:  to further build support for LGBT equality within the wider Latino community through public education, resources, and engaging the community through social media, and to heighten acceptance of LGBT family members within the Latino community.

While 54% of Latinos currently support marriage equality, and 59% feel that homosexuality should be wholly accepted in society (68% of second-generation Latinos said the same), there is still work to be done to increase those numbers even more.  This is especially true among those who come from very conservative Roman Catholic backgrounds and communities.  Familia es Familia cuts to the heart of the matter in a way that resonates with all Latinos, and by cultural extension, Filipinos as well.

IMO, the Familia es Familia campaign is brilliant.  Traditional Latino Catholic families are tight-knit, protective, and engaged in their community.  Their values, outlook, essence, and guidance all come from the wellspring that is the family.  This is known as "the Catholic family dynamic."  Filipino families are absolutely no different in this regard, and this, to my mind, gives great cause for hope for the future prospects of gay rights and equality in the Philippines.

Familia es Familia  carries a two-pronged message:  1) Your family members are your family members, no matter how they were born or who they fall in love with.  Blood is thicker than water.  And 2) All families are families and are worthy of dignity, support, and respect -- whether they're traditional nuclear, single-parent, or two parents of the same sex.  The campaign appeals to the strong ties of the Latino Catholic family dynamic.  The coalition of Latino organizations recognized this.  They know what they're doing.

In Western cultures, which largely encourage independence of the individual, the issue of LGBT equality has been played almost purely from a rights perspective.  "This group is denied the rights that this group have."  "This person, by virtue of her sexual orientation, is being denied her rights and treated unequally."  That's not cool.  If there's disparity in society, it starts to make us very uncomfortable - especially for Scandinavian social democrats like me.

This is effective to a large degree for Westerners, and in cultures where equality is engrained into us from our toddler years onward.  Hispanics, however, like Filipinos, aren't so big on individualism.  In modern cultures influenced (or should I say dominated) by the antique customs of the so-called "Golden Age of Spain," the family supersedes the individual.  The individual often submits to the family (and to tradition) for the good of the family as a whole, and for the good of the community.  The boat should not be rocked.  If you stand out too much or squawk for individual rights too loudly, you run the risk of being labeled a "me first" character.

Family is more than just the top middle circle.
I think the Filipino LGBTQ community could profit by tapping into the ideals of the Familia es Familia campaign.  Approaching the issue of equality in the Philippines solely from a rights perspective may not be the best route through which to achieve progress.  It works well in a court of law, but maybe not so well in the court of public opinion -- and let's face it, on the issue of LGBT equality, both of those "courts" are hugely important.

The better approach, especially in places with a strong Catholic family dynamic, is an approach emphasizing love rather than rights, i.e. the concept that families -- all families -- are something to be valued.  This resonates with Filipinos; rich and poor, educated and non-educated, religious and non-religious alike.  Shouting "Rights!  Rights!  Give us our rights!" may not resonate quite as well with the average Pinoy or Pinay as saying "We're your family and your friends.  We value families.  We value your families.  So please value our families, too."  The latter strikes a subtler chord; a chord that appeals to peoples' humanity.

Personal stories simply carry more weight than appeals to legal rights, which are often misconstrued as a push for "special rights", and equality proponents in many countries are starting to realize this.  Framing the discussion in legal terms doesn't win over very many hearts and minds.  It doesn't resonate well with the Average Joe on the street, or with lawmakers for that matter.  Emphasizing love, commitment, stability, and family, however, can pack an emotional wallop.  As the Freedom to Marry campaign in the U.S. says:  speak to the heart first, then the head.

In light of this, the Filipino LGBTQ community actually has a unique opportunity to step back and observe the wider picture of the struggle for equality from other countries that have already forged ahead.  Gay rights activists in the Philippines can see what has worked and what hasn't, and tailor fit the different options to create a uniquely Filipino approach that will work best in their own communities.  What worked in my country, which values liberality and fosters personal independence, may not work so well in yours.

From my observation, Familia es Familia could fit the Filipino "Catholic family dynamic" culture like a glove.  Perhaps it's time for a Pamilya ay Pamilya campaign to kick-off in the Philippines.  It certainly couldn't hurt.

»» For those interested in ideas on how to move equality conversations forward in your community, I highly recommend reading this pdf report by Freedom to Marry.  (It is tailored to the U.S., but it has some EXCELLENT concepts that would work equally well in the Philippines, or anywhere else for that matter.)


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