SAN FERNANDO – Joey remembers being derided in fifth grade for being different. The Latino youth remembers thinking about boys and not girls, hoping he was just going through a phase. And he remembers the uproar at home, when he was 15 and his mother discovered notes from a former boyfriend. “I hope you will change; I hope you will find God,” he recalled his mother saying. “To this day, they want me to change, but it’s not going to happen.” AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2Joey, now 17 and whose last name is not being used, shares a common story for gays and lesbians in predominantly-Latino communities rooted in their native country, customs and religion. Because of the often hostile environment, social worker Hector Cabrera plans to open the Latino Gay and Lesbian Outreach Center on Maclay Avenue in San Fernando. Cabrera said he has secured a site, but has not sought city permits or hired staffers to provide HIV testing, education and counseling to English- and Spanish-speaking Latinos. Never an easy task for gays and lesbians of any race, sharing their sexuality with parents is particularly painful for the children of immigrants. Foreign-born Latinos and predominantly Spanish-speaking Americans have significantly more conservative beliefs about abortion, gender roles and homosexuality than native-born or English-speaking Latinos, according to studies by the Pew Hispanic Center. “Being `out’ is still seen as an American thing,” said Antonia Garcia-Orozco, a Chicano Studies instructor at California State University, Northridge. “You can be gay, but if you appear to be macho they will leave it alone. But if you are effeminate …” Garcia-Orozco has counseled students who felt suicide was their only way to escape being gay and has secured emergency housing for others. “Some students, when they came out to their families, found they were immediately homeless,” she said. Homosexuality slowly entered the public consciousness in the early 1980s with the first reported cases of AIDS, but it wasn’t something that was openly discussed. In recent years, it has become a hot-button political issue due to the push for same-sex marriage. Garcia-Orozco recalls knowing few gay students – especially among Latinos – when she attended Cal State Northridge in the mid-1980s. “We were within this weird situation where we were out within the queer community, but we were in the closets within our own families,” she said. The Latino Gay and Lesbian Outreach Center would not be the first of its kind. Bienestar has a center in Van Nuys that provides HIV testing, counseling and assistance to Latinos. Northeast Valley Health Corp. also performs HIV-education outreach. San Fernando Mayor Nury Martinez ran one of its support groups for women infected with AIDS before she entered politics. Martinez was unaware of plans for the outreach center because Cabrera and Saul Gonzalez, who is helping start the center, have not spoken with her or other city officials. But she said she supports groups that want to help fight AIDS through education. The spread of HIV/AIDS in Los Angeles County remains most pervasive among gay and bisexual men, and increasingly so among gay Latinos, according to the county Office of AIDS Programs and Policy. In 2004, Latinos accounted for 48 percent of people diagnosed with AIDS in the county. “These conversations need to take place somewhere,” Martinez said. “It’s a huge problem for us in the Latino community because it is a taboo.” Joey, who hopes to study performing arts at New York University after attending community college, has spoken with Cabrera about volunteering at the center. “I wish it was open when I went through this so I would have had someone to talk to,” the Sylmar High senior said. “I just don’t want people to go through the pain and torment I went through.” [email protected] (818) 713-3634160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!