As a teenager in the ’90s, I looked forward to finishing my homework early nearly every night so I could watch a telenovela with my mom and abuelita. Latin American soap operas captured my imagination most when their melodrama and magical realism addressed social issues. As a queer Latinx youth from Colombia, I sat riveted to the screen when the characters struggled with classism, immigration, and racism. But I was disillusioned because the few queer characters who took center stage reinforced stereotypes and provided comic relief.

In reality, queer Latinx youth are much more complex. A 2019 focus group we conducted with parents, youth, health providers, and educators in Corvallis and Portland, Oregon, found that queer Latinx youth can face dual forces of isolation. They experience racism and xenophobia within queer spaces, and transphobia and homophobia in ethnic community spaces. At the intersection of queer and Latinx communities, we found that these youth experience identity strain that leaves them feeling unworthy and lacking someone in whom to confide.

Believing their isolation is a result of being timid, introverted, or having inadequate social skills, the queer Latinx youth in the focus group blamed themselves. Their reaction is consistent with findings about queer youth in general: pervasive social isolation and rejection drive them to feel unsafe in school and at home, and to attempt suicide.

Queer youth of color need a change of narrative. As director of the Engaging the Next Latinx Allies for Change and Equity (ENLACE) program, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, I set out to create a telenovela starring queer Latinx youth in their own stories of bravery. The newly launched ENLACE series can be found on YouTube (and here on the YES! site). The videos are all created by queer Latinx youth who participated in a filmmaking workshop led by Outside the Frame and Oregon State University, where I am an assistant professor and director of the Global Health Program.

Read the full article about queer Latinx youth representation by Jonathan Garcia at YES! Magazine.