Category Archives: Queer

Seeing God in Abuela

When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.
Psalm 27.10, KJV

My abuela Palmira left this world on March 30th, 2014. She was the last one of my grandparents to leave us. I had been blessed with three sets of grandparents as my father had two sets of parents, his birth parents, abuelo Quino and abuela Margot, and the couple of welcomed him into their family when he was quite young and working away from his hometown, abuelo Jobito and abuela Ester. My maternal grandfather, abuelo Juanito, left us when I was 8 years old but I still remember him very well. Every Sunday afternoon, when the family gathered at their home, he would sit on his rocking chair and tell us funny stories that would make us laugh for hours. Abuela Palmira would stand next to him and laugh with all of us.

Abuela Palmira   There was something peculiar about my maternal grandparents. They practiced Spiritism, a religion in which every human being is of sacred worth and where spirits guide us to be in communion with the Great Spirit that is sometimes called God. At their home, everyone was welcomed and celebrated. They never rejected anyone. My grandparents believed in serving everyone and in welcoming everyone without distinction. Although I was too young when my grandfather died and thus not even aware of my own sexual orientation, I know that my grandfather would have accepted me and celebrated me. My grandmother, however, had the chance to know who I am as a whole person and she always, without doubt and without excuses, celebrated me for who I am.

When I think about abuela Palmira, the verse that always comes to mind is that of Psalm 27.10: “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.” When my parents rejected me for being queer, it was abuela who welcomed me. She always supported me and celebrated my life. When I introduced her to my now husband, I was told that she spent months telling everyone who would listen about the wonderful man I had met. Recently, while talking with an aunt, she told me how they found among abuela’s personal items the wedding invitation I had sent her for my marriage. I knew she would not be able to attend my wedding due to health problems, but she had kept that invitation as an important memento. Through these actions, I can say that abuela embodied the Holy One in my life. Thus, when my parents disowned me, God took me up through the love, support and affirmation of my abuela Palmira.

The Sunday before abuela departed this world, my husband and I spent time with her. We had been in Puerto Rico for vacation, and of course I had to go visit abuela. She made us laugh with her witty remarks. This was abuela. She was always making jokes and laughing about things, even when her health wasn’t the best, she always found joy in living. I am not naïve to say that she was perfect, because none of us are. She had her flaws and made mistakes like the rest of us. But her love and support meant the world to me, and it is those values that will stay with me throughout my life. Her love, her support, her laughter that last time I saw her will always be the manifestation of God in my life. I will keep her memory alive as long as I live and I will always share with the world the values that she shared with me.

Abuela Palmira, you are now gone from us, as you would have said, you are now “unfleshed”, but your spirit will continue to guide me just as the spirit of abuelo Juanito has never left me. Gracias por todo, abuelita.



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Filed under amor, Culture, Dios, familia, Gay, Heritage, Hispanics, Latino, Lesbian, LGBTQ, Puerto Rico, Queer, Theology

Everyday Hispanic Heritage Project – Prof. Christian J. Roldán Santos

Prof. Christian J. Roldán Santos

Instructor of Mathematics – Black Hawk College

Rock Island, IL

The Quad Cities between Iowa and Illinois is not precisely the place to find many Latin@s, although, as everywhere else in the USA, this is rapidly changing. There is a new influx of Hispanics due to both immigration and second and third generation Hispanics moving up in the economic ladder. However, it is always difficult for those moving to new places to find the resources to adapt to their new environments. This is why we need all the help that we can get from those who are already established and who are willing to extend their hands in solidarity.

Today’s Everyday Hispanic Heritage hero moved to the American heartland over ten years ago to attend the University of Iowa in Iowa City, IA. Christian Roldán Santos graduated with honors with a degree in Mathematics from the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez and immediately moved to Iowa City to pursue a graduate degree. Currently, Mr. Roldán is pursuing a PhD in Higher Education at Illinois State University, Normal, Il. He fell in love with the area and decided to make of the Midwest his home.

Mr. Roldán is originally from Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico. As a gay, Puerto Rican, Latino immigrant he has found that his life is always in limbo. He states that he is “too Puerto Rican and Latino for the United States, too American for Puerto Rico, and too gay for either place.” Perhaps this is what has brought him to be deeply involved in working for justice for Latin@ immigrants as well as for the LGBT communities.

There are many fields in which Latin@s are underrepresented, and Mathematics is one of them. However, Christian has a passion for this field and through his actions has shown the upcoming Latin@ generation that it is possible to pursue a career in Math and Sciences. Mr. Roldán is currently a professor of Mathematics at Black Hawk College in Moline, IL. At Black Hawk he is the advisor to two organizations, the Association of Latin-American Students (ALAS) and Phi Theta Kappa; he also serves as the vice-president of the school’s Senate, coordinator for the school’s International Festival, and volunteers during orientation session to help with international students.

Christian is also very involved in his local community. He regularly visits local schools to give talks and presentations on college life, leadership, success, and diversity awareness. More recently, he is schedule to be a presenter at the Latino Youth Summit at Black Hawk in October. Mr. Roldán also volunteers with the newly created LGBT Metro, an organization that supports gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals in the Quad Cities area.

Certainly, Hispanics and Latin@s moving to the heartland of the USA will find inspiration and a supporting presence in Christian Roldán Santos. For all that he does for his community in the middle of the Iowa-Illinois border, Christian is today’s Everyday Hispanic Heritage hero!

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Dios y la comunidad trans

En las comunidades elegebeté (lesbiana, gay, bisexual y transexual) ésta última letra siempre se queda rezagada. Esto no es culpa de la comunidad – o debería decir, “comunidades” – trans, sino que ha sido una actitud sistemática de parte de las comunidades elegebe el mantener al margen a estas otras comunidades. Si bien es cierto que esta marginalización es evidente dentro de las comunidades elegebe, la misma es mucho más evidente en las comunidades religiosas.

Es bien sabido que aun dentro de las comunidades religiosas – en específico, cristianas – las comunidades transgénero, transexual y travesti son, no solamente ignoradas sistemáticamente, sino hasta demonizadas. Esta demonización de las comunidades trans es algo que debe tomarse en cuenta a la hora de hacer teología y de entender el llamado cristiano a la aceptación y a la diversidad.

En ocasiones me pregunto, ¿qué diría Dios de las comunidades trans? La respuesta a esta pregunta es mucho más simple de lo que muchas personas querrían que fuera. Aquí les dejo mi lectura socio-teológica de las Escrituras Sagradas con respecto a la relación de Dios con las comunidades trans.

Primero tenemos que definir de manera general las comunidades trans. El término transgénero es utilizado como una descripción de aquellas personas cuya identidad de género no se conforma a las normas sociales impuestas a su sexo biológico. Así, las personas transgénero pueden ser transexuales, travestis o personas de género no conformista. Hay que mantener en mente, sin embargo, que no podemos y no debemos asumir que una persona es transgénero simplemente porque no se conforma a nuestras definiciones de masculinidad o feminidad. Siempre es importante dejar que la persona misma se identifique a sí misma. Entre algunas personas dentro de las comunidades trans, el término transexual no es bien recibido, ya que tiene sus orígenes en la medicina y por lo general es utilizado para establecer un diagnóstico socio-sicológico. Asi mismo, dentro de las comunidades angloparlantes el término travesti es generalmente utilizado de manera ofensiva. Sin embargo, entre las comunidades hispanohablantes, el término travesti se refiere, por lo general, a aquellas personas que utilizan el transformismo como forma de entretenimiento o como estimulante erótico, independientemente de su identidad de género. O sea, que una persona puede ser travesti y ser “masculina” o “femenina” de acuerdo a las normas sociales y además puede ser heterosexual en su orientación.

Por supuesto, estos son términos y explicaciones generales. Es importante que cada persona, especialmente personas que ostentan posiciones de liderato en comunidades eclesiásticas, se mantengan informadas acerca de las diferencias entre estos términos para así poder ofrecer mejor apoyo pastoral a quienes se acercan a nuestras congregaciones.

Pero ahora movámonos a la relación que Dios tiene con las comunidades trans. Para poder hacer una mejor lectura de ésta relación es importante remitirnos a las primeras expresiones de Dios en las Sagradas Escrituras con respecto a la humanidad. Estas palabras las encontramos en Génesis 1.26-27: “Entonces dijo Dios: Hagamos al hombre [literalmente, “ser humano”] a nuestra imagen,conforme a nuestra semejanza; […] Y creó Dios al hombre [literalmente, “ser humano”] a su imagen, a imagen de Dios le creó; varón y hembra los creó.” Una lectura transgresiva de este pasaje nos lleva a la conclusión de que en los albores del milagro de creación, la Divinidad misma nos deja saber su naturaleza transgénero. Una Divinidad que no tenga rasgos de uno y otro sexo no sería capaz de crear a la persona a su imagen y semejanza.

Contrario a la antigua forma de leer este pasaje como un llamado al binomio “macho-hembra” que nos ha sido impuesta tradicionalmente, una lectura liberadora del texto revela mucho más. La humanidad no fue creada en binomios, sino en un continuo entre uno y otro extremo y es derecho de cada persona de establecer los parámetros en los cuales su ser interior se siente en completa comunión con la Divinidad creadora.

Moviéndonos aún más adelante, otro ejemplo de transgresión ocurre en el milagro de la encarnación. El evangelio de Juan 1.14a nos deja ver esta mayor transgresión de la Divinidad: “Y aquel Verbo fue hecho carne…” La encarnación de Dios en la persona de Jesús es indicativo de una transgresión de género que sobrepasa el entendimiento humano. Ya no estamos hablando de dejar los roles de género masculino para comportarnos de manera femenina. Ahora tenemos el ejemplo de una sustancia completamente diferente viniendo a habitar en forma humana. La transgresión de Dios en el milagro de la encarnación es pues indicativo de la apertura extravagante que tiene la Divinidad para con las comunidades trans.

Mientras sigamos manteniendo las puertas de nuestras comunidades de fe cerradas a las comunidades trans, estaremos previniendo a la Divinidad misma la oportunidad de manifestarse en medio nuestro. No es posible para la persona cristiana, en particular, proclamar a Dios en la persona de Jesús y al mismo tiempo cerrar nuestras vidas y nuestras puertas a las comunidades de trangéneros, transexuales y travestis. Es hora de hacer de nuestras comunidades unas de bienvenida extraordinaria a toda persona y punto.

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The Problem of Religious Violence in Puerto Rico

Religious violence and fanaticism is nothing new. Both of these have had many manifestations throughout the centuries. In the history of the Church in the West – both Roman Catholic and Protestant expressions – we have seen and experienced religious violence. Within Roman Catholicism this violence was manifested in the institution of the Office of the Holy Inquisition, which accused thousands of people of heresy and brought them to death by horrible means. At the same time, Roman Catholicism fostered the religious wars of the Crusades, which were used to regain control of Jerusalem and Palestine, taking these lands from the Muslim faithful.

Less known are the manifestations of religious intolerance and violence within Protestantism. In the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe, as the Protestant faith was taking shape, pretty much every country had to overcome religious violence. Even the Martin Luther, the main reformer of the church in the West, was guilty of persecution when he condoned the execution of hundreds of peasants who wanted to take his reforms too far in his native Germany. In England, thousands of Catholic martyrs were killed because of religious persecution thanks to the actions of Queen Elizabeth, who sought to keep her political and religious stability through bloodshed.

More recently, in the Americas, we have seen religious wars between Roman Catholics and Protestants in the Mexican state of Chiapas, where faithful from both parties accuse each other of having desecrated the Christian faith. Puerto Rico has not been exempt from these manifestations of violence, especially expressed through the work of self-proclaimed religious leaders who frame their religious sermons in war rhetoric. For instance, often times during religious meetings in Puerto Rico, the term “spiritual warfare” is used to describe the relationship between those who profess the Christian faith on any given way and those who have a different understanding of the faith or those who have no faith. The problem with these manifestations of religious intolerance is that bring us to demonize “the other” thus taking away their personhood and transforming them into objects of hate.

Religious intolerance in Puerto Rico has much to do with the little theological education of the religious leadership. More often than not, this lack of theological education is more evident in those institutions that are not related to an established denomination. In Puerto Rico we have seen a sprouting of faith communities of charismatic theology and many “independent”  churches where the leadership role is filled by people who have proclaimed themselves “Apostles”, “pastors”, or “bishops” without having gone through the rigorous theological training required by many established denominations.

The proliferation of independent and charismatic/Pentecostal churches has also left a deep imprint in those faith communities that have traditionally been theologically educated. This is so, I believe, because those churches that require theological training do not have the resources to compete with those who send out without theological training to the pastoral field. Because of this lack of resources – particularly economic resources to send people to theological schools – both Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant communities are very often led by lay people without any or very little theological training.  This creates an environment where the leaders bring their own theological interpretations with multiple local biblical interpretations based on the social mores and understandings of the leaders. Unfortunately, these local interpretations of Scripture either dismiss or do not take into consideration the evolutionary reality of the development of the dogma and doctrine. There is no attention to how one belief is developed and why it exists.

Although the Puerto Rican people have tried to dismiss our Latino history and identity, preferring a pseudo-Americanization based on a myth, the truth is that we still show our plantain stain[i]. We are a Latin/Hispanic country. As such, we tend to grant power to those people who show greater charisma and personality. Church communities in Puerto Rico show this reality when they (us) grant leadership positions to those who claim to have received a direct message from God appointed them – or rather, self-appointing – as “God’s chosen and sent.” This is in spite of their lack of theological education for the most part. It is in this context where most religious leaders whose congregants are also voters come to be the perfect place for the political elite of all stripes to gain support.

Politics in Puerto Rico is also a manifestation of our latinidad, and thus it grants power and authority to those with more charisma and personality. The political ideas or platforms are irrelevant if a political party has enough money to buy the conscience of the people who watch sparkly TV and newspapers ads. Religious leaders are the perfect people to bring voters to the voting booths, regardless of the policy positions of the political parties. This is even more evident when we see in Puerto Rico the overwhelming support that Roman Catholic, conservative candidates receive from Pentecostal, charismatic, and conservative evangelical leaders in spite of these leaders’ violent and open anti-Catholic rhetoric. This makes for very interesting bedfellows, and to my knowledge, is not very common in other democratic societies, with the exception of the USA, country to which Puerto Rico belongs. These alliances are, perhaps, just a way for conservative religious leaders to gain access to power and prestige in order to impose their own religiously-motivated policy agendas.

Church-State separation in Puerto Rico is but a historical footnote printed in our Constitution. This separation is not practiced because it does not favor the establishment of political-religious elites. Historically, this separation was brought up with the idea of keeping the Church safe from the intervention of the State. The Baptist community, of which I am a part, fought incessantly to protect this separation. There are thousands of Baptist martyrs who died because of their position on this particular theological principle. Unfortunately, within the greater Baptist family, the principle of Church-State separation is but a mantra that is repeated without understanding what it means or how much it cost us to gain. It is even more unfortunate to see how a multitude of religious groups with a charismatic and Pentecostal tendency have influenced in the way in which our Baptist faith communities interpret this Biblical principle of separation.

Recent manifestations from self-appointed religious leaders in Puerto Rico are also a testimony to the lack of theological education that these people have been exposed to. Often, when any form of theological education has taken place, is in the form of a “Bible institute” in which you are taught how to memorize Scriptural texts but any contextual interpretation of the Bible is dismissed. These institutes tend to prefer a so-called “literal” approach. What the people trained in these institutes do not realize is that their “literal” reading of the Bible is actually a way of interpretation, in which their own mores and socialization is read into the text. Moreover, these literal readings of the Sacred Text lead people to the sin of idolatry, putting the Sacred Text en par and often times above the Triune expression of the Divine Mystery.  This form of idolatry, bibliolatry, has been extensively studied in recent years.

In more concrete ways, we note how the religious leadership in Puerto Rico has tried – often times very successfully – to influence the creation of public policy. By implanting laws that take away rights from the LGBT communities and protections to women in particular, the religious leaders have demonstrated that their interest goes beyond religious intolerance. These actions are actually a representation of these people’s desires to establish a form of “constitutional theocracy” where only those deemed “right” should have rights and be protected. This is an extension of their erroneous eschatological theologies in which the Reign of God is to be established by all means necessary.

This, of course, does not contribute to create a peaceful environment. These are in fact the roots of the cultural wars we are continually exposed to. What the religious leaders forget, though, is our call as people of faith to imitate Christ and to open stop closing the doors to those who are different from us/them. Interestingly, if these leaders paid any attention to the New Testament, they will see that it is filled with instances in which Jesus rebuked those religious leaders who wanted to implement their own interpretations of the Sacred Scriptures upon others. Again, we note how the religious leaders in Puerto Rico put the laws of the Bible above the example of Jesus, committing bibliolatry.

Ecumenical conversations in the Island are – from my perspective – not very useful either. Ecumenism in Puerto Rico is reduced to a series of liturgical celebrations and very few, watered-down, and sporadic round-tables. Even these ecumenical instances are marked by their lack of diversity. In Puerto Rico, ecumenism often takes place in one of three ways:

– Roman Catholic “ecumenism” that tries to bring the lost back to Rome.

– Mainline Protestant ecumenism that is watered-down and downplays the role of difference in Biblical interpretation in the name of “peace” and “unity.”

– Conservative evangelical and Pentecostal ecumenism that is more often than not a way of “saving” those lost Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants who have let theological education and church history “rot their minds.”

Perhaps it is time for ecumenical conversations in Puerto Rico to start anew, bringing to the table both what unites us and what separates us. Perhaps it is time to revive those ecumenical actions that happened during the people of Vieques’ fight to get the US Marine out of their island-municipality. Perhaps it is time for religious people in Puerto Rico to finally acknowledge the presence of Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Santero, Espiritist, and other forms of religions that are widely practiced in the Island and invite them to the conversation.

When Puerto Rico suffered the recent systematic killing of gay, lesbian, and especially transgender individuals, no church, to my knowledge, raised their voice of protest to denounce these atrocities. Yet, when a great Puerto Rican humanitarian like Ricky Martin brings his concert, a myriad of religious leaders came to protest. Why? Perhaps because Ricky is doing exactly what they are not: saving children from the hands of unscrupulous predators through his foundation to stop human trafficking. This is something that the churches in Puerto Rico are not doing. The shame that these religious leaders must be feeling might have moved them to raise their voices… These religious leaders are often more interested in “saving the souls” of the little kids while ignoring their current oppressed realities. This is certainly deplorable.

Many of us have already experienced the pain of having been excluded because of our theological leanings, our sexualities, our socio-economic realities and even our racial backgrounds. I was one of this people who suffered this pain both from society at-large but more painfully from the church. I believe that if there is any hope for the Church in Puerto Rico to be redeemed it will be when the Church – in all its expressions – publicly confesses its sins of rejecting God’s diversity in creation. In the meantime, the violent environment they have created from their hostile pulpits will continue to foster violence, deaths, murders, attacks to LGBT people, oppression to women and the working class, and a plethora of other social ills. This hostility from the pulpit has also reached the Legislature and the Executive branch and it is the primary responsible for bringing about the pain of death and violence in our Island. It is time to put an end to the bully pulpit of the Puerto Rican Church, and to begin living out the blessing of having God’s diversity in creation recognized. Until them, a peaceful living will be hard to achieve.

[i] There is a saying in Puerto Rico, “se te nota la mancha de plátano”, which translates to “you show your plantain stain”, making reference to the difficulty of hiding our identity as a historically rural-based and farming country.

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