Armando Hernandez Jr. currently serves as a youth advocate as part of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Youth Ambassador Program, a group that Levi Strauss & Co. proudly supports. Armando shares his story below on why he continues to use his voice to shed light on the LGBTQ+ community.
As a child, I was rarely exposed to the idea of homosexuality.
Through media, I was consistently exposed to cisgender artists, advertisements that featured white actors and movies with exclusively heterosexual relationships, but I was never introduced to any form of LGBTQ+ representation.
As a young boy, I had always known I was gay, but I never knew how to describe it, let alone express it to others – homosexuality was completely uncharted territory. Yet, I had “come out” at the age of 13. After coming out, I faced a variety of life-challenging obstacles that attempted to bring me down. Through these difficult times, I experienced pain and suffering from those who said they loved me most and I was taunted and bullied at my school, a place that was once filled with memories of friendship, education, and safety.
It wasn’t long until I discovered the large community of LGBTQ+ students within my high school. I befriended dozens of students, many who shared similar experiences to mine. Together, we founded our high school’s first Gay-Straight Alliance club, where dozens of students were able to fully immerse themselves in an environment of safety and self-expression. As one of the founders and first officers of the club, we were able to bring awareness to everyday social issues that LGBTQ+ youth commonly face, including depression, bullying, low self-esteem, substance abuse problems and abandonment. Openly discussing these topics allowed our club members to equip themselves with new perspectives, giving them the ability to go out and share their stories, knowledge, and ideas.
Once I began to familiarize myself with a variety of LGBTQ+ issues, it was instinctive for me to pursue opportunities of advocacy. Over the past few years, I have protested, researched and presented on LGBTQ+ issues, and I developed a willingness to openly discuss my journey as a gay Latino. As a current youth ambassador for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), I am given opportunities to uplift and represent the LGBTQ+ community through activism, volunteering, outreach and advocacy. HRC has given me a platform that has enabled me to share my experiences, struggles, and concerns with countless individuals across the country.
And this year, I will finally be able to put that advocacy to power by voting for the first time in our U.S. elections. Now that I’m 18, I can cast my ballot for people and issues that align with my beliefs and concerns.
Today, we are finally starting to see a large part of our community represented in society. Finally, millions of youth can find themselves depicted in the media, their schools, entertainment, and government. This is why I continue to share my story, to motivate and inspire others to implement positive changes in their communities. I recognize that even the smallest efforts can create the largest impacts. This is why I strived to bring a GSA club to my high school. In looking at the members of our club, I saw future artists, actors and singers who will create change in our entertainment industry. I saw future politicians, activists and educators who will create change in our government systems. And I saw future athletes, researchers and parents who will create change in our society. Only together can we accomplish progress towards a future that is more just and representative of our reality.