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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Ninth place (tie) — Persons of color essay contest: Leyma Hernandez

Against all oppression

FFRF awarded Leyma $400.

By Leyma Hernandez


Leyma Hernandez

here was only one kind of kiss that was not prohibited, only one union that was not frowned upon: between man and woman. That was how it was meant to be, how God intended it. A lingering stare at a pretty girl was seen as adulterous when I was an emerging teenager. Something as innocent as a kiss or the holding of a hand, sinful. The message of the church was echoed every day through my grandmother, ever the devout Catholic. I heard, all the way from Mexico, her piercing disappointment at my disobedience toward the Church, my shunning of hundreds of years of Mexican tradition. I resented the ever-present institution that preached about love and forgiveness, yet only accepted one kind of love.

To step outside the norms was to be shunned by your family, to break the traditions would be disrespectful, and to love the woman I love was to spit in the face of my grandmother. Religion forced me and my grandmother apart. It broke bonds and created restrictions, chains that I was to wear throughout my lifetime if I was to be accepted by my family. But these standards would not be what I would live by.

Freedom from religion meant freedom in all its essence for me. Freedom not to be subject to men’s whims. Freedom to love. Freedom to progress into a better future. I began to reject the Catholicism in which I had been raised, with such teachings as, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent” (1 Timothy 2:12). Or when they began to say that my love was not valid. Or when I heard Sunday school instructors speak in hushed tones about “the gays” and their “sexual deviancy,” which I thought was a bit funny coming from an institution that covered up thousands of cases of sexual assault against children. My split from the oppressive church was my salvation. Not God. My decision to take my life into my own hands and live my truth was the best decision I ever made, for it provided me with enough courage to take on the world.

My struggle to overcome the rejection of my family for not loving the God they wanted me to is shared by many, yes, but aside from my hardships are the hardships millions of other people suffer from. The secular community can begin to engage us by seeing the truths and hardships people of color face every day. From blatant racist comments by the president, when he tells immigrants to “go back to your country,” to our black brothers and sisters being inexcusably murdered every day by oppressive police. This community should become a blanket of freedom for all people, and not just selective causes. It stands for love, progress, freedom and human rights, and under that umbrella falls many of the everyday struggles of people. If the secular community is able to reject a most powerful institution in our modern-day society, it can most definitely stand against all oppression.

Leyma, 18, is from Phoenix and attends Arizona State University. She hopes to become a civil rights lawyer and work for the ACLU. Leyma is a film enthusiast and writes screenplays that reflect the struggles of all kinds of communities.