In honor of Pride Month, we are sharing this conversation with Erica Hernandez from Yuma, Arizona. We talked about her work as a youth minister in the church, her journey as an ally for her trans child and her volunteer leadership for PFLAG, an advocacy group offering support to LGBTQ+ people and their parents, family and allies.
If you or a loved one are struggling with orientation or identity, or would like to learn more as an ally, resources and support are available to you. PFLAG is one good option. The Trevor Project can help in moments of crisis. Other resources may be available in your community or online with a quick search and PFLAG can help connect you..
About the time that my oldest was in fifth grade, that’s when everything in our family unit really started this whole journey with my son trying to find himself in the LGBTQ community, what that meant to him, where that will lead, and what that looks like.
I remember in fifth grade, he was still identifying as she, and so she asked me, “What would you do if I told you I was a lesbian?” And I just kind of looked at her, and she was crying. She was just very overtaken with emotion. And I said, “Well, what would you do if I told you I was bisexual?” And so she just kinda looked at me shocked, and I’m like, “We’ve all come from different paths and different lifestyles. This is where I was. I met your dad and he was perfect. He was wonderful with your cousins and he was respectful to my sisters and my mom. And he had a job and a car and I was 19.”
I just kinda let him know—her know at the time— your dad was who I fell in love with and that’s who I’m with. And I love him and I respect him and this is where we’re at. And I think that left the door open because the very next year in sixth grade, that’s when everything hit the fan, as far as him and what he was struggling with.
I remember him really educating me on orientations. I thought there is gay and bi, that’s all I thought there was. Either you like boys or you like girls, I didn’t know. “I don’t see myself as a male or female,” or “I see myself as this but I was assigned this at birth,” I’m learning all those terms and what that means.
This was all new territory even though I was bisexual. I wasn’t within the community. I didn’t know the lingo. I had no knowledge of any of that. And so he really educated me and that’s the first time I ever heard pansexual. “You know, maybe I’m pansexual.” Ok, what is that? So he really took the time to explain it to us and I’m like, well, that makes sense. I can understand why you think that.
His name is Cecil.
That’s when he started asking his classmates— he went to a private Christian school—and he started asking his classmates that he’s been with since kinder, “What do you think of someone who’s this? Would you necessarily be friends with them? How would you approach them? Would you approach them at all?” Trying to figure out, if I were to come out, am I—are you—safe? Are you a safe person that I can talk to? And so parents caught wind of it. Administration caught wind of it. And they said, this isn’t the place to discuss those things.
I’m thinking, relationship-wise? Or term-wise? What are we talking about here? Because there is a little bit of dating. I like you, you like me in class. And if this isn’t the place for that, it needs to be explained to everybody else. They said, we kindly ask him to stop doing that. And so can you please tell him that this isn’t the place.
He is so bright. He was one of the top five, if not one of the top three students in his class at that time in sixth grade.
This was right before Halloween that year. I remember because the day before Halloween is when I got that phone call from the administration and then November 1st I get another call from the principal that said if he was trying to succeed with getting expelled, he just did it.
He just got expelled. That year he struggled with turning in assignments. He went from A’s to barely passing. He was having to stay after school to turn in work. I know my husband—maybe not so nicely— was like, just turn it in already. What is going on? And it was that tone that kind of put Cecil in a spot of, “Am I not good enough the way I am? I’m okay with it, but you’re not,” like he was going to have to compete academically for the love of his father. For approval. And the whole time I’m thinking, yeah, just turn it in. What’s going on? But being the mother, I thought, what do we need to do to help you? What is it? Do you need a new layout of your bedroom? Do we need a declutter? Not only was he dealing with the pressure of school and coming out, but he was also struggling internally.
So we go down to the school, we sat down with the principal and they’re like, you know, we asked him to stop and he hasn’t stopped. And this goes against our articles of faith and I’m thinking, all right, he didn’t bring a weapon. He wasn’t threatening anybody. He doesn’t, to my knowledge, have any kind of drugs on him. Why are we expelling him? And so in maybe not so nice words, I told the principal, you know, as a ministry of the church, I’m very disappointed in how you’re handling this. You’re choosing to shut him out completely to cookie-cut your student body when you can come alongside this child and show them love and mercy. And take this journey with them. And let them decide from themself who they want to love and not love. And just have it be what it is, but be that support, be that moral compass from him in making decisions in life, you know? It’s pretty disappointing. This is the age group when we really need to come alongside them.
And I said, I don’t think he’s assaulted or approached anybody. I don’t see why he would be expelled. In time, he was trying to catch up with his grades. He was going in for orchestra to help with the younger kids, kind of tune their violins and whatnot.
So I told Cecil, if you felt you’ve given enough of yourself to the school, of your time, you see how your dad volunteers on career day, you see how we go above and beyond. I was serving on PTO at the time. And I said, I played a lunch lady. I do this, I do that. If you think that we’ve done enough for this school as this family, and you want us to continue to fight for you to come here, we will.
But if you felt you’ve done everything and they’re not going to respect you and your choices, then you make the call. Do you want to go? Do you want to stay? He’s like, I’m done. I said, all right let’s go.
Remember who you are and whose you are. Don’t apologize for being you and exploring the things you want to explore. You’re allowed to explore these things. You’re allowed to fail at those things and reconsider those things and start somewhere new. You know, we don’t have this blueprint to life. Everything brings you to the point you’re at now. It’s called experience.
One of the things I have to tell some parents is you’re allowed grieve over the loss of your child or the person you thought your child was. Whether you saw the signs or not. I had Cecil’s birth name picked out before I met my husband. You’re allowed to grieve as a parent,
I want to really get rid of that stigma that comes along with LGBTQ and what they are. And who they think we are. We have to show them or tell them that we are worthy of love. We are worthy of love, just like anybody else. We have and need and deserve the same rights as everybody else. To be recognized, to be seen through our medical teams that, yeah, this is the right decision for you.
I have to continually work on me before I go working with somebody else. Scripture says to love others as you love yourself. As you love yourself. You’re supposed to love yourself too. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you might fall short, get winded, feel overwhelmed.
[I want people to know] it’s going to be okay. You are loved more than you know and it’s going to be okay. Support comes in so many different forms. Reach out to one and figure out how we can narrow it down to helping you. You can go to PFLAG, they can find a local chapter. They can suggest a therapist in the area who’s LGBTQ friendly, to talk about some of those things. There may be other support groups, people going through the exact same thing that you’re going through. It’s going to be okay. It won’t be easy, but it’s gonna be okay
The love of a parent is unconditional. It’s not that it should be. It is unconditional. What we struggle with is what we need to work on. As a parent, I don’t see how you could not welcome your child with open arms. Any time they come through the door, any time they come to you, put your phone down, put the book down, let that call go to voicemail. Be there 100% for your children. Love is unconditional.
-When have you needed to advocate for your child?
-When have you needed to understand your child in a new way?
-When have you experienced unconditional love?
-Have you had personal experience with gender identity and sexual orientation issues in your family?
-When has that been navigated well? Navigated poorly?
-What does Erica mean when she says it is ok for a parent to grieve the loss of who they thought their child was?
-How can you do that while still offering love and support?
-When have you worried about acceptance and found love anyway? What did that mean to you?