I was recently thanked for being a “voice for the voiceless”; I have never identified myself as an “activist” – I really do not like the word, but in a sense, I think I have began to do so especially with the LGTBQ people of color to represent another voice and another face to the movement of equality and diversity in our society. A couple weeks ago I spoke at the Maryville College in East TN about justice for the immigrant community, and I outed myself in order to start bringing justice to my people as well. I know there are risks, but when I was asked why I did it, I responded, “in order to bring change I need to be the change” much like Gandhi’s famous quote: “Be the change you want to see in the world”.
I have been encouraged by many undocumented students in the USA who are coming out from the shadows to live without fear of retaliation with strength and hope to bring change. In the same way I cannot keep waiting in the shadows of society’s oppression, just because I am fearful of what could happen. Thirty-nine years hiding is enough time to start thinking about doing something different. I did not come out from the closet to keep myself inside while the outside world is moving. I did not come out to then hide. No, I did not! After losing my job, marriage, and receiving many judgmental statements from people who used to be close to me, I won’t let myself back inside; I am opening the outside door and shouting who I am: a gay, free spirited, immigrant, Mexican gordito who is defending the rights of “mi gente” (my people) and empowering them so they can also have a voice.
Others have said “be patient. ” I have been patient, but time is running out, and I am already 41 years old. The only way to bring justice to our people and restore human dignity is to be able to come out from the shadows, to speak out loud, to not be afraid, and to be the change. It is time!!
Six months ago while working as a community organizer for a state-wide non-profit, I was unfairly discriminated against by the director of Hispanic ministries of a religious institution in East Tennessee – not because of my place of origin, but because of my sexuality. She advised me not to contact the leaders I was already organized with, unless they were initiating the conversation. I was not allowed to teach inside of the church, and by no means was I going to be able to organize the undocumented youth because, as she stated, she wanted to “protect the vulnerable youth”. She also mentioned that if my organization wanted to organize the youth, someone else would have to do it for me. Ironically, she told me: “Miguel, you are very charismatic, and I am afraid that if the youth get to know you, they will add you to facebook, and then they will realize who you are. Then they will say ‘if I am ok with Miguel, then I am ok with his lifestyle, and I cannot be because the Church’s position is against it.”
My LIFESTYLE is to read, write, dance, and enjoy time with friends and family. I couldn’t understand why she was putting a halt on my work in east TN, especially since I do not work for the church, nor do I represent their beliefs.
Every time I went to facilitate a workshop, I never brought up my sexuality. I was there to organize “mi gente” and help them understand and defend their rights. I was there as a fellow “Latino” to stand beside them and raise one voice. I was there to build a movement; I was never there to share my personal agenda, although I believe I do not have a personal agenda besides talking to restore human dignity to the many hard working undocumented immigrants and bring back social justice for all.
As a community organizer and someone who believes in social justice and the restore of human dignity, I should welcome and value diversity, meaning that every person no matter what race, religion, gender, age, social class, or legal status is cherished. I need to create spaces free from discrimination and oppression, and this includes: sexism, heterosexism, classism, racism, etc. We cannot let silence become the ongoing remainder of people’s fear to change, because silence will take us back to fear and apathy.
Becoming a “voice for the voiceless” means being able to leave fear aside and speak loudly, because the moment I let silence reign, I am letting my voice being oppressed by the noise and screams of those who oppose the change. I lived like that; I am not doing it again.