by Arlene M. Sánchez-Walsh
Two recent surveys dispel some common misconceptions about Latino/a religious communities and LGBT rights. Adept news media watchers would do well to dig into these findings, which debunk the myth that Latinos/as are overwhelmingly socially conservative and that they invariably rely on their religious convictions to guide their politics.
According to a survey from Latino Decisions, moral values are not a defining issue for Latino voters. Another poll commissioned by the National Council of La Raza illuminates the broad gap between stereotypes and reality by revealing growing acceptance of the LGBT community among Latinos/as.
Of course, the finer details complicate the picture. Among Latino evangelicals, LGBT acceptance is still far off, though for many mainline Protestants and Catholics, the time for LGBT acceptance has already arrived. Here are some highlights: Among Latino/a Catholics, over 30 percent support same-sex marriage, for example. The numbers are similar for mainline Protestants. The NCLR study offers a bounty of information for journalists interested in the nuances within Latino/a religious communities and their views on a host of LGBT issues.
Two keys to LGBT acceptance among Latino/as are acculturation and generation. Recent immigrants, who tend to be most anti-gay, generally say they know no gay people and often hold onto a brand of biblical literalism that makes LGBT acceptance a nonstarter. There are clear correlations between the length of time in the U.S. (the level of acculturation) and the degree of moderation in views on social issues–trends that trace an arc from very conservative immigrant generations to highly acculturated U.S. born-Latinos. The take-away message? LGBT acceptance among Latinos/as seems to be just a matter of time.
Latino/a Catholics and Protestants who reported a more accepting attitude noted that the more contact they had with LGBT community, the more acceptance they felt. U.S.born Catholics, in particular, did not exhibit the antipathy that conservative Catholic activists have; in fact, they actually have one of the highest rates of LGBT acceptance. Mainline Protestants–a smaller but historically significant group of Latinos/as–exhibited the same or higher rates of acceptance. This supports the idea that as Mainline denominations have begun to accept LGBT people, their Latino/a adherents have incorporated these changes into their own belief systems.
Scholars of religion and those who cover religion in the news media would do well to complicate the picture of Latino/a religion by examining such crucial issues as generational change, acculturation and shifts in the sources of religious authority. The assumptions of the past cannot be taken as givens in the present, especially as the Latino/a religious community continues to evolve and surprise us all.
Arlene M. Sánchez-Walsh is associate professor of Latino church studies at Azusa Pacific University. As a Lilly Fellow in 2006, she began a project examining the influence of the prosperity gospel among Latino evangelicals. In addition, she is completing a book on multicultural evangelical youth culture and beginning a textbook for Columbia University Press's “Religion in America” series entitled Pentecostalism in America. Her first book, Latino Pentecostal Identity: Evangelical Faith, Self and Society, received the Hispanic Theological Initiative's Book Award in 2005.