Isaias Hernandez Is Educating The Masses About Veganism And Environmental Justice

To plant a seed is to invest in the imagination of the future — a hope, a dream, potential. In November 2019, then-23-year-old Isaias Hernandez planted a seed, making his Instagram debut as @QueerBrownVegan, an account aiming to educate folks about environmental justice, veganism, and a zero-waste lifestyle. With more than 80,000 followers on Instagram and growing, the report has firmly taken root. To read about the rest of the Culture Shifters, including TV writer Cord Jefferson and activist Mariah Moore, return to the complete list here.

Within the gridwork of the ’gram, a lateral classroom is called into the session where Hernandez passes seamlessly between the role of educator and student. Using piercing anecdotes — such as the degraded health he experienced due to growing up in Los Angeles, living in low-income housing close to toxic facilities — and thought-provoking infographics, @QueerBrownVegan marries experience and theory. Answering simple questions in posts — for example, “What Is Food Waste?” — Hernandez educates followers on the basics and points them to additional sources on a topic, encouraging further critical discourse and collective engagement.

The comments section on each post reveals an ongoing experiment in peers, knowledge exchange, personal and collective vulnerability, and unlearning. One post, “Is Choosing An Environmental Major In College Worth It?” had multiple followers commenting that it was precisely the message they needed to see as they faced their struggles with limitations with academia and labels.

Aesthetically minimal, vibrant, and educationally expansive, the account mirrors the essence of its creator and his journey. AHernandez, now 24, struggled wsserting his identity as the only queer person growing up in a Mexican household where “sexuality and mental health wasn’t rddressed or normalized.” Homophobia, machismo, and environmental injustices cast a haunting shadow. Found among Hernandez’s posts about environmentalism and sustainability is a radical acceptance of self and gentle encouragement for us all to love ourselves, too.

He learned more about his identity at the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental science. “Growing up in circles that did perpetuate homophobia, it did get to me because I realized the people that I thought loved me didn’t love me,” Hernandez said in a phone interview. “And that put a big strain on who I was, but then when I was in college, I realized that I wanted to be authentic.” This actualization of self-value, bolstered by a supportive chosen family of fellow queer and transgender students of color, led to a sense of safety and confidence, which helped Hernandez assert sharp criticism as one of the few queer non-Black people of color in his field of study.

“For centuries, queer and trans-BIPOC have led movements towards advocating the rights of their communities,” Hernandez said. “The environmental curriculum we learned glorified white cis straight men who often disregarded and discarded so many queer ecological practices.” In academia, antiquated curricula often push marginalized folks further to the sidelines. Anger can be a fortifying tool in the quest for liberation, and Hernandez gets mad. Facing discrimination within research spaces that historically have been — and often presently are — hostile toward queer people of color, Hernandez asked himself, “Why do I have to continue shaming myself into allowing a white man’s comfort to continue to perpetuate curriculum?”

He and his friends began to critically discuss intersections that were violently erased within environmental justice movements. “One thing we did notice was how we can intersect environmentalism with LGBT and people of color,” Hernandez said. “When natural disasters strike, the most affected are front-line communities.” This generally means low-income Black and brown communities, undocumented, disabled, or experiencing homelessness and unemployment. Hernandez observed the organizations that focus on helping these communities are typically riddled with homophobia, transphobia, racism, and systemic oppression — in direct opposition to the historical role that queer and transgender Black, Indigenous ,and other people of color have played and continue to play while fighting for environmental justice.

Hernandez doesn’t claim to have all the answers. He freely takes accountability for past and future mistakes. He has positioned @QueerBrownVegan as a direct counter to the dominant narrative that violently erases queer and trans people of color and alienates individuals from practices indigenous to their ancestry. With his Instagram account, Hernandez hopes to center queer people of color, especially regarding education about the environment. Centering his own experience is paramount to the process.

“When I’m doing this work, I just want to create things that helped me also learn, that challenged me to be something better than I was before,” he said. “Because I’ve made so many mistakes, and I’m going to continue making mistakes.” In essence, the goal is to encourage conversations. Hernandez deeply feels the responsibility to continue carrying that message. He almost seems to be speaking directly to his followers when he says ,“tThevalue of community is medicine.”

Tyson Houlding
I’m a lifestyle blogger with a passion for writing, photography, and exploring new places. I started this blog when I was 18 years old to share what I was learning about the world with family and friends. I’ve since grown into a freelance writer, blogger, and photographer with a growing audience. I hope you find inspiration and motivation while reading through my work!