January 27, 2021
Becoming comfortable with my identity as a queer and spiritually fluid person was a complicated process for me. Growing up in a profoundly religious Latino home, made my journey of self-discovery as a brown queer theist, a long, lonely, and often confusing endeavor. I was taught from a young age to accept and normalize misogynistic gender roles and adopt stringent religious morals and conservative political values. During my teen years, I became increasingly cognizant of my so-called “deviant” attraction for the same sex. I also became aware of the injustices that the church and society levied against indigenous peoples and the queer community. This led me to question the values of my family and my church. Questioning those in authority, especially God, was not tolerated in my home, so I doubted in silence. I continuously felt the pressure of having to hide who I was.
Thoughts of disappointing and dishonoring my family haunted me incessantly. However, the worst part was thinking that I was unworthy of God’s love. I regularly found myself in prayer sobbing, alone, hoping to be delivered from this burden that weighed heavily in my heart and on my mind. Although I prayed earnestly, I felt my prayers were never answered, and so I decided to stop asking. Ultimately, I decided to stop praying altogether.
At age 19, I made the difficult choice of separating myself from everyone I knew, including family, friends, and the religious community. With a great amount of fear, but with an even greater amount of hope, I stepped away, yearning not to hide anymore. While my journey of self-discovery was daunting at times, I became increasingly comfortable in my skin and successfully peeled away years of misinformation, fear, and falsehoods. I was deeply inspired by the lives, words, and dreams of great leaders both living and deceased—of all gender identities and sexual expressions—whose bravery, resolve, resistance, and unwavering love for humanity helped create a more equitable world. Slowly, I became mindful of my power and worth as a brown, queer man and began to see myself as an activist. I often encourage myself to move forward by repeating the words of human rights activist Dolores Huerta, “Si se puede!” and once I have conquered what I thought was impossible, I say to myself, “Si se pudo.”
While I had become comfortable with my brown, queer identity, I still felt uncomfortable not having God in my life. Even though I was steadfast in my (erroneous) belief that my identity and God were incompatible, I longed for a connection with the Divine. My undergraduate studies and spiritually focused extracurricular activities have offered me a new perspective on queerness and spirituality. I have been challenged to ask difficult questions and have become increasingly comfortable with not having all the answers. It has also become clear that not everything I had previously learned about God was true or accurate. With this understanding and deep reflection, I have developed my own theology—one that understands God as love, unfixed, and accessible to all who seek with an open heart.
When engaging others who hold different religious traditions or philosophical perspectives, my undergraduate studies and training through Interfaith Youth Core and the Interfaith Leadership Institute have taught me to rely upon my values of inclusion, respect, and justice. These skills have also enriched my life by enabling me to reconnect with my family and bridge divides that earlier seemed too vast to reconcile. While I am cognizant that we adhere to different religious beliefs and practices, we have been able to find commonality through prayer, sharing our blessings, spiritual experiences, and resources to meet the needs of others. For me, God is love, and I choose to experience God by encountering diversity with an open mind and a tender heart.
Nestor Hernandez (he/him) currently studies Religion with an emphasis in Interfaith Studies at the University of La Verne, in La Verne, CA. He serves as an Interfaith Fellow for the 2020-21 school year and is President of the Common Ground Club on campus. Nestor also sits on the executive board of both the University of La Verne LGBTQ Coalition and Community Partners 4 Innovation (CP4I), a local non-profit that focuses on addressing the needs of underserved communities in Pomona, CA, and the greater Pomona Valley area. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Instagram: @ulv_common_ground.
Watch: A Talk With Dolores Huerta