The nonprofit Honor 41 reclaims a slur to elevate LGBTQ+ Latinx stories

NAHJ’s executive director creates space for communities that have been marginalized

June 30, 2020

The other boys called the teenager “41.” He thought the nickname was a sign of friendship until one day they were all hanging out at his family’s house.

The teen’s dad called him to the garage of their home in San Diego. “They’re calling you a (homophobic slur). Are you?”

A young Alberto B. Mendoza said no — he was not ready to come out to his family. The other boys were asked to leave, and Mendoza was punished for not recognizing the homophobic slur with which he had been labeled. He wouldn’t learn until years later why his dad was so upset that he was called “41.”

Mendoza said the sting didn’t go away: “It was just miserable.” The number 41 haunted him: He was assigned to dorm room 41. He received 41 cents in change. He noticed whenever it was 41 minutes past the hour.

Mendoza came out when he was 20, but constant reminders of “being harassed and bullied” made him anxious.

Then, in 2013, the year Mendoza would turn 41, he told a friend about his childhood experience. It was then that Mendoza learned a story that originated in his birthplace of Mexico.

At the start of the 20th century, 42 young men — half of them wearing dresses — went to a dance in Mexico City. After a police raid, the son-in-law of a local politician was released. The others — the 41 — were disappeared. Some were arrested and sent elsewhere; others went to work camps.

Learning the story, Mendoza said, “I felt almost healed.” He realized that he had never been alone and that others had suffered. The realization made him angry.

Mendoza — now the executive director of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists — decided to reclaim the number 41 because there is no national LGBTQ+ organization or singular voice for Latinx people. He named his nonprofit Honor 41, using a word that means “pride” in English and Spanish, “to help celebrate who we are as a people.”

Honor 41 profiles 41 Latinx LGBTQ+ role models each year. Mendoza also aims to document their coming-out journeys as a “distant cousin from the ‘It Gets Better’ campaign.” He notes that little messaging exists in Spanish for LGBTQ+ youth.

Mendoza’s “labor of love” is self-funded, though donations are accepted, and he plans to eventually accept user-submitted videos. Honor 41 profiles subjects from age 12 to 82, and what each person shares is being “out and authentic.”

“Something that made me cringe,” Mendoza said, “is now a source of what I’m proud of. It’s healing and cathartic.”

Doris Truong is Poynter’s director of training and diversity. She can be reached at dtruong@poynter.org or on Twitter at @doristruong.

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