Trans Latinxs Talk Connecting with Spirituality Beyond Religious Institutions

Trans Latinas have fostered a bond with religion and religious figures like La Virgen de Guadalupe, separating the institutions from the spiritual


Photo: Unsplash/Grant Whitty

Catholicism is often aligned with a strict and conservative nature of beliefs and followers. Within the Latinx community, we have witnessed how Catholic beliefs along with machismo have contributed to transphobia and ignorance toward the experiences of Latinxs who are part of the trans community. Yet, in Phoenix, Arizona trans Latinas feel a connection to the emblematic figure of Catholicism for Latinxs, La Virgen de Guadalupe. Victoria Lafayette, Karolina Lopez, Alexa Vela, and Reni Celayn find themselves connecting to their faith through the Lady of Guadalupe despite the push back they receive from Catholicism. As reported by The Arizona Republic, these Latinas have fostered a bond with the patroness, seeing her as a maternal figure that accepts them as they are as opposed to the ostracism they face from many Catholic institutions and leaders.

Lafayette—who has been a successful drag queen for over 20 years known as Diamond Dallas—describes her as a mother figure, “she will always care for you”. Following years of facing anti-LGBTQIA+ treatment at Catholic schools she had attended, her faith in the religion deteriorated while over the years her fondness for the Virgin Mary grew. In a similar fashion, Vela, who felt the same rejection from family and the church growing up, feels devoted to the Virgin Mary while keeping herself away from the Catholic Church. Celayn, on the other hand, honors the Virgin of Guadalupe in the same vein that she celebrates and uplifts her Mexican roots through participating in Dia de los Muertos and keeping imagery of the Virgin Mary in her home.

Lopez, who co-founded and is the director of Mariposas Sin Frontera—an organization that advocates for LGBTQIA+ immigrants in Arizona—coincides in avoiding Catholic churches that so often represent the rejection that many trans and queer Latinxs face from their communities and families. After over 20 years since stepping foot in a church, Lopez made her way to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe seeing the figure before her eyes. While they each have had their own experiences with the Catholic Church and their devotion, they all view the Virgin Mary as more than the Catholic Church and religion. They hold her close as separate to the religion and institutions that have long rejected them.

Rather than associating the rejection and transphobia they have faced in life to the patroness, they see her as a refuge, a mother, and safe haven to have a sense of security especially with the transphobia and violence their community faces. Celayn points out caution that herself and others in the community have to have due to the bigotry they face. It is important to note the anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation that has been pushed in the past few years coupled with the rates of anti-trans violence and hate crimes trans Latinas face. According to the Human Rights Campaign, in 2023 there have been at least 28 deaths of transgender and gender non-conforming people through violent means. Of those, 89 percent were people of color and three were Latinxs.

They aren’t alone in having an affinity of La Virgen de Guadalupe. For some time, queer Latinx artists have also reimagined her through art pieces and held her to signify unconditional love and empowerment for the LGBTQIA+ community. While theology and institutionalized religion are often not considered to be welcoming or tolerant of the LGBTQIA+ community, for many Latinxs who grew up in a Catholic home, separating the institutions versus their connection with the spiritual world is crucial.

Rev. and Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, is an ordained Baptist minister and author of the book Body Becoming: A Path to Our Liberation (2022) where they wrote about the experience of navigating life as an activist theologian who is transgender, gender nonconforming. They previously published Activist Theology which bridged the gap between academia and activism.

“I think about how many people want to bear witness, but either don’t have the courage or are afraid to go into this terrain,” she previously told the National Catholic Reporter. “My theology has shaped my faith, and theology has shaped my practices, because all theology is ethics. … My gender, my sexuality (are) all deeply informed by my understanding of theology and the craft of doing theology through things like story, and the fact that we are always becoming, we’re always changing, and that God is in all things.”

They explained that the church is a “fold of supremacy culture” that encourages followers to align with their beliefs on what is “Right” including “cisgendered, straight and white body supremacy.”

“We live in a world deeply compromised by things like diet culture, white body supremacy. I look at my ancestry and my lineage, which is composed of stories of migration, and moving, and struggle and poverty. When I look at that lineage, I am trying to heal the lineage by remaining close to struggle but trying to be faithful in the small things.”

During the festivities for Our Lady of Guadalupe, celebrated in Mexico on Dec. 12, the stories of these trans Latinas present a complex perspective on this figure that strays from the shunning that is often experienced by trans and queer people from the Catholic church. In the midst of hate-fueled rhetoric and violence often perpetuated by religious institutions, they are empowered by their own relationship to spirituality and forging a new path for LGBTQIA+ seeking that same connection.

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catholicism latinas LGBTQIA machismo Mexico our lady of guadalupe religion Robyn Henderson-Espinoza Toxic masculinity trans community Trans Latina trans latinx Virgen de Guadalupe
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