I Still Believe

A Latino man finds a way to celebrate his religion and spirituality.

By Rogelio Z. Zepeda

I FONDLY CELEBRATE MY RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS. During Lent, my family used to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and not eat meat on Fridays. On Viernes de Vigilia, our kitchen would be filled with the smells of Nopalitos en Pipian, Tortas de Camarón, fish cooked different ways, and for dessert, Capirotada.

I grew up in Mexico and religion was an important part of my family's life, as it is for most Latin American families. During Lent, we observed our traditions religiously. We received ashes on Ash Wednesday, purchased palm leaves woven in intricate patterns, and had them blessed on Domingo de Ramos. I remember as a a child not being allowed to play loudly or to listen to music from Good Friday through Saturday night because, as my mom explained, a period of mourning had to be observed for the death of Jesus. We attended church services on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and on Saturday night at the marathon three-hour Vigilia Pascual. The reward for sitting through all this was the burning of the paper maché Judas in the church parking lot, and the rat-tat-tat-tat-tat of firecrackers. On Easter morning, everything went back to normal.

I am Catholic, and although I have often questioned many of the positions taken by the church hierarchy, I have never considered abandoning my religion. Being Catholic is an intrinsic part of my being-much the same as being Mexican and being a QV man. It has provided me with comfort in difficult periods of my life, and it has served as an anchor that has provided stability in an otherwise shifting world. Of course, it has also made it more difficult to accept my sexuality-a sexuality that goes against what I was taught by my parents and the priests in Catechism. But I have never doubted that God loves me or that Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, with her benevolent eyes, sees right through me, and knows that even though I am a QV, I am still a good human being.

When I moved to Los Angeles in 1979 to go to college, I was struck by how much fear people had about their sexualities. I felt a secret shame about being QV, and did not step into a QV bar until years later. But a ray of light came into my life when I found out that there was an organization for QV Catholics called Dignity. When I went to their first meeting, the realization that I was in a room full of QV men who were also religious was very empowering. Having a support group of people that shared something in common made it much easier to accept and cherish our sexualities.

Religion has been blamed for ostracizing and even encouraging violence against homosexuals because some irresponsible people have used their interpretation of the Bible as an excuse for spewing their hatred. But for people whose religion and spirituality are important, that is taken as a challenge: a challenge to help change people's misconceptions about QVs and lesbians; a challenge to confront church leaders who do not practice Christ's teaching of loving one another; and a challenge to be true to oneself, and accept and love the gifts God gives us.

Regardless of our religious affiliations, there are many groups that we can join to continue practicing our faith without compromising the acceptance of our sexuality. There is Dignity for Catholics, Affirmation for Mormons, Integrity for Episcopalians, Evangelicals Together, Lutherans Concerned, Presbyterians for Lesbian and QV Concerns, Metropolitan Community Churches, Unity Fellowship Church, United Methodist Reconciling, Seventh-Day Adventist Kinship, and many more. Anyone who wants to get back in touch with their spirituality should check them out!

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