To a background salsa and merengue, Paraguay native Mark Loewen said he celebrates being Hispanic, gay and a dad — a combination he says is rare in Richmond.
Loewen, his 7-year-old daughter and dozens of others took part in a daylong event in Richmond on Saturday that centered on Hispanic culture and sexual orientation inclusivity.
The event on North Side was the result of a partnership between the Viva RVA! Hispanic Music Festival and Diversity Richmond, a local organization that advocates for the LGBTQ community.
The festival featured food trucks serving Hispanic food, Latin music from live bands, and informational booths about inclusivity, census participation and Hispanic art.
The event also honored local Hispanics who have contributed to the mission of Diversity Richmond. Among them was Loewen.
Loewen said he immigrated from his native Paraguay 15 years ago to study counseling, with hopes of seeking so-called conversion therapy — a controversial practice that claims to change patients’ sexual orientation.
“It didn’t work, and instead I learned to accept myself,” said Loewen, 39.
But he did pursue a career in counseling and now operates LaunchPad Counseling, a mental health practice in Henrico County. “We don’t just accept, but actually affirm diverse identities,” he said.
Diversity Richmond also praised Loewen’s 2018 children’s book, “What Does a Princess Really Look Like?” which features a girl with two dads on a quest to create her own princess.
Loewen said a lot of books for girls with two dads focus strongly on explaining that family structure. “I wrote a book for my daughter about a girl that happens to have two dads but also loves princesses, and wants to create the perfect one,” he said, adding that the book focuses on body positivity and self-empowerment.
Through promoting his book, Loewen has been active on social media, regularly posting photos of his family in “a city where there are not a lot of girls with two dads.”
He said that as adoptions by gay men increase in Virginia following the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, he hopes other families can feel connected and welcomed.
“It’s a different situation,” said Loewen, speaking about questions from his family in Paraguay about how he and his husband would raise a child. “It made a difference for them to see it.”