Pulse nightclub attacks hit close to home for Latino gay men and the challenges of coming out

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NEW YORK CITY -- For Heriberto Sanchez Soto, the journey of acceptance has been a lifetime process.

It all began when he left Puerto Rico at 16 because he knew that coming out as a gay Latino back home would be faced with many more challenges than what he would experience here in the states.

"For me New York City was an outlet. My effort at liberating myself," Soto said.

The former Army drill sergeant, says his story is similar to many other Latino gay men in that their lifestyle was not accepted by friends or family when they came out or even before they came out.

Carlos Zuluhea knows well the challenges of being gay and Latino.

"Those times were really hard and especially in a country like Colombia," Zuluhea said.

Zuluhea was overwhelmed in his native Colombia when he was outed 22 years ago by a friend. He was only 18 years old at the time, "We are in a much better position than before, but we still have a lot of work to do."

Zuluhea now runs the bar "Hombres" which translates to "the men" in Jackson Heights. His bar targets primarily male gay Latinos, in fact approximately 70 percent according to Zuluhea.

His business partner Gilman Perez, is from the Dominican Republic. Coincidentally, he is also straight. Although Zuluhea and his partner say things have improved in terms acceptance within the Latin culture, Perez says that there are still limitations back home.

When asked if this bar can operate in Santo Domingo? He responded, "Yes, somehow, it can in the capital I believe, but I don't think it will work anywhere else on the outside."

For Sanchez Soto, the Exectutive Director of the Latino Pride Center, based in Harlem, the tragedy in Orlando may generate a fresh outlook on understanding and acceptance, "I think that best in us comes out and I think in that process, I think people that otherwise would not be as supportive of the gay community would take a second look at their own humanity."

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