Von Diaz on PRI’s The World: LGBT Immigrant Youth Struggle in New York

Adrielle Grant, a 19 year old immigrant from Guyana, is homeless in New York City

Adrielle Grant, a 19 year old immigrant from Guyana, is homeless in New York City. (Photo: Maria Watts)

This story originally aired on PRI’s The World on June 30,2011.

Adrielle Grant recalls the day his mother kicked him out. That’s when she told me “‘you can’t live in this house, cuz I don’t want no gays in this house.’ Then she said she would kiss her mother’s grave if she if she knew I was gonna be gay.”

Adrielle is a 20-year-old immigrant from Guyana. For the past year he’s been living on the street and in temporary housing. We spoke in his bedroom at Green Chimneys, a program that provides housing and services for homeless youth.

Listen to the story:

He moved to the US five years-ago with his sister. They initially lived in Atlanta with an aunt.

A year ago, Adrielle moved to New York to be with his mother. He was there only two weeks when his mother learned he was gay. A cousin in Atlanta revealed his secret. Adrielle’s mother confronted him in the street, shouting painful insults at him in public.

“And she should have had an abortion of me … and she would have never had these problems … and she would never forgive me for being gay,” he said.

And if he had stayed in Guyana, she probably never would have found out.

Adrielle says he’d known for years that he was gay, but he never told anyone until he came to the US. Back in Guyana, his family often made homophobic comments. Adrielle says he would never have come out if he had stayed there.

“It would be very dangerous for me to do that,” he said. “Especially the time right now, there’s a lot of violence.”

When he moved to Atlanta and started high school, he met other gay teens of Caribbean descent. And he began to feel more comfortable being open about who he was.

That’s typical for gay immigrant youths, says Carmen Quiñones, program director at Green Chimneys.

“They were raised and taught that it was so taboo to be out, and to be themselves, or to feel that,” Quiñones said. “Now, here in the states, they see that, and they are able to express it and show it, but at home they are rejected, or in their country. And, so, here they are trying to navigate that, and the feelings behind it.”

But their parents often feel unprepared and overwhelmed, says Quiñones.

That was experience for one Mexican couple. They agreed to share their story if I didn’t use their names. Last November their 19-year-old son came out to them.

“[Translated] it was a Sunday, we came home from church [and] our daughters told us,” the mother said. “‘Sit down, we want to talk to you.’ And then they said, ‘Jesse is gay.’”

She said, it was the end of the world.

“After they told us, I said, ‘Let’s move away from here, where no one will know us. We’ll sell the houses, and we’ll leave,’” the mother continued.

The mother said in her native Jalisco, people are not openly gay and that it’s never discussed.

Although the couple was devastated by their son’s revelation, they didn’t throw him – like Adrielle’s mother. They just never talked about it.

Then four months later, their son became very ill. He was diagnosed with meningitis, and fell into a coma. When his condition didn’t improve, the mother says she finally revealed to the doctors that her son was gay.

“I asked them to test him for HIV,” she said. “And my son is positive. At age 19.”

Their son came out of coma four days later, and his health is steadily improving. These parents say since that time, they’ve come to terms with their son’s sexuality.

“[Translation] well for me it was very strong, because he is my only son, the only son that God gave me,” the father said. “And so with him ends my name. I don’t applaud my son, but I also don’t punish him, because God made him the way he is. And, anyway, you can’t abandon your blood relations. He is our son.”

But the couple still isn’t ready to tell the family back home.

Related article: Gay Immigrant Youth in New York Struggle With Homelessness

Von Diaz is a Feet in Two Worlds LGBT reporting fellow.  Her work, and the work of other Fi2W fellows, is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Mertz Gilmore Foundation.

AboutVon Diaz
Von Diaz is a writer and radio producer based in New York City. She is a self-taught cook who explores Puerto Rican food, culture, and identity through memoir and multimedia. Her work has been featured on NPR, American Public Media, StoryCorps, WNYC, PRI’s The World, BuzzFeed, Colorlines, and Feet in 2 Worlds. Von has an M.A. in journalism and Latin American and Caribbean studies from New York University. A graduate of Agnes Scott College, she earned a B.A. in Women’s Studies and focused her research on women in Latin America. She is a currently a producer at StoryCorps, and previously worked in community advocacy and communications for nonprofits focused on women, children, art, and Latino culture.