A smiling young Latino man wearing glasses and sitting on grass among a crowd

Young Gay Man Had to ‘Get Out of Richmond’ to Find Community

A smiling young Latino man wearing glasses and sitting on grass among a crowd

(Photo courtesy of Carlo Figueroa)

By Natasha Kaye

Growing up gay in a large Catholic, Latino family in Richmond, Carlo Figueroa often felt there was no one to show him how to “be gay.”

Lacking a community who could share this knowledge, he turned where many of us do when there’s no one to answer our questions: Google.

“It kind of sucked because there was no one to tell me about it. I basically had to Google it,” he said. “There was sex ed, but we never learned about gay or lesbian or anything that wasn’t the heteronormative lifestyle.”

Figueroa, 23, always knew he was different. In elementary school, he grew frustrated by the other boys incessantly asking him which girls he had crushes on. Not only could he not give them an answer, he also couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t attracted to girls to begin with.

As he grew older and more comfortable with his sexuality, Figueroa realized he was gay and slowly began coming out to his inner circle. He first told his best friend in eighth grade. A few years later, he told his siblings and cousins. By 10th grade, he had officially come out.

However, it wasn’t until he graduated from high school and moved away for college that he worked up the nerve to tell his parents.

“I was scared they weren’t going to accept it,” he said. “I mean, I knew they wouldn’t be the type of parents to kick me out, but I was a little afraid they weren’t going to love me as much anymore — that they were going to think there was something wrong with me because I was raised Catholic.”

Like many Latino families, Figueroa’s is deeply religious. He was raised being taught the values of the church, and with that came regular reminders that being gay is a sin in their view.

Fortunately, when he did tell his parents, they accepted him and, for the most part, supported him.

“I think he always kind of knew,” Figueroa said with a laugh, referring to his father.

His mother had a bit more difficulty. For years, he said, she couldn’t bring herself to say “gay.”

Nowadays, Figueroa spends most of his time in Davis with his cat, Belle. He will soon graduate from UC Davis.

While he has found a community of LGBTQ+ people of color who embrace, celebrate and support each other, he still wishes he could have some sort of support system growing up in Richmond.

>>>Read: Richmond’s LGBTQ Community Wants More Safe Spaces

Figueroa advised other LGBTQ+ kids in West County who feel they have nowhere to turn to just be themselves.

“It’s not worth it, living in fear of what your family or community might think of your sexuality or gender identity,” he said. “You’ll miss out on your life and your happiness to the expense of your mental health.”

But he said they might need to go elsewhere for that to feel possible.

“If you’re not convinced,” he continued, “get out of Richmond first — go to college, move out, or just meet LGBTQ+ people from other cities and see just how much better life can be when we’re surrounded by our community.“

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