No one should ever feel isolated. This belief motivates Dr. Jonathan Garcia to combat social isolation among Latino lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth living in the U.S.
As ethnic, sexual and gender minorities, Latino LGBTQ youth are prone to social isolation resulting from rejection from family members, religious communities and peers. This threatened sense of belonging can lead to depression, chronic stress, attempted suicide, sexual risk, substance use and exposure to violence.
Thanks to a three-year, $405,065 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant to the Oregon State University College of Public Health and Human Sciences (CPHHS), Dr. Garcia and a team of expert partners are combating social isolation experienced by LGBTQ youth.
Their approach — creating an environment that leads to supportive relationships among Latino LGBTQ youth and their peers.
To create this environment, the team will start by collaborating with Latino LGBTQ youth to adapt a telenovela (soap opera) toolkit to train peers in combatting social isolation. The telenovelas will then be piloted among Latino youth allies through the Outreach Leadership Institute operated by 4-H at Oregon State.
“With this method, people can act out scenes from the telenovelas and not have to personally identify with being gay or being an undocumented immigrant or other things that might be sensitive,” Dr. Garcia says. “This way, they can still discuss these sensitive topics, but instead of having to personally identify with them, they can portray them as if they were a character.”
Dr. Garcia, an assistant professor in the CPHHS, says since the youth have shared experiences of marginalization they can empathize with each other.
“The theoretical basis of this project is empathy. Latino youth have the ability to understand the struggles of a Latino LGBTQ youth because they have likely also experienced marginalization because of their immigration status, poverty, their family not speaking English or a range of other reasons,” Dr. Garcia says.