Eder Díaz Santillan’s childhood was colored by his experiences growing up gay in an often homophobic Catholic parish. Reconciling his faith and sexuality was a long journey for Santillan, but today, he has found connection and helped others to do the same through a podcast sharing stories from Latinx LGBTQ Catholics.
According to the website for De Pueblo, Católico y Gay, Santillan’s Spanish-language podcast tells “Latinx LGBTQ+ stories that explore gender and sexual identity and its intersections with faith and tradition. This is a space for open conversations with ourselves, our family and our friends.” Santillan does so through interviews with LGBTQ Latinx people, most of whom are Catholic.
Santillan told the National Catholic Reporter that he hopes the podcast will help open conversations about gender and sexuality in Latinx communities—conversations he was not able to have growing up in Mexico. The newspaper reported:
“Santillan’s upbringing in the small Jalisco town of Encarnacion de Díaz was immersed in the church. He has an uncle who is a Franciscan friar, a cousin who is a nun and an older brother who studied to become a priest. The town is centered around the main local parish. Growing up, he said he heard priests condemn homosexuality in their sermons and homophobic family gossip about those thought to be gay.”
As a child, Santillan thought, “I was a sin, that I was going to hell.”
Like many queer Catholics, he distanced himself from the church during his undergraduate years at California State University, Northridge. But seeing a shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe on a trip to Europe inspired him to find a new relationship to the Catholic faith he grew up with. No longer wishing he were straight, Santillan sought to reconcile his faith and sexuality. He told NCR:
“‘I started to learn that there’s a difference between what God and my relationship with him looks like … and what somebody with maybe their own internalized homophobia from an altar is trying to tell me God thinks of me.'”
Now a graduate student in journalism, Santillan has been able to connect with other LGBTQ Latinx Catholics through the podcast he started. Many of his guests were podcast listeners who reached out to him and asked to share their stories.
The podcast fills a need Santillan saw for resources that address the unique needs of LGBTQ Latinx people, who face multiple forms of marginalization within the church and society:
“Before coming out as gay in his early 20s, he looked for guidance in books, but most were written by white authors who didn’t reflect his experience. With his podcast, he hopes to help facilitate conversations between religious Latino parents and their LGBTQ children.
“‘I want to talk about who I am. I’m from a small town. I’m Catholic and I’m gay,’ he said.
“‘In these homes, it’s hard to speak about issues that don’t fit within the church teachings, like divorce, having children out of wedlock and being gay.’”
De Pueblo, Católico y Gay has already been a much-needed resource for many. Catholic spaces are often places where queer people are talked about rather than listened to. It is a gift to be able to hear stories of other queer Catholics who are learning how to live their faith in authentic ways—even when that isn’t recognized by the institutional church.
The need for connection is even more acute for queer Catholics who are marginalized in other ways. Santillan’s personal experience points to the need for queer Catholic spaces to be intersectional in their approach. Many of these spaces in the U.S. are dominated by white, cis gay men. Anyone who does not fit that description can have a harder time finding community. But like the church at its best, we need to seek to be universal in our inclusion.
—Mac Svolos, January 23, 2020