By Marcus Castro
Editor’s Note: This story is part of an ongoing South Kern Sol series of profiles of local social justice activists and organizers.
For Bakersfield activist Moises Duran, working as an organizer with LGBTQ youth has always been personal.
Duran, 27, is an Equality Organizer for the Dolores Huerta Foundation, where he supports LGBTQ young people in their personal and leadership development. Duran did not always know he wanted to work in the social justice field.
He grew up in Mexico and moved to California when he was 18. After earning a Culinary Arts degree to pursue a career in the food industry, he worked in restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area for five years in before an injury put him out of work.
Without much experience in other fields, Duran began to go through his skillsets to find what was next for him. He decided to pursue being a medical interpreter since he’s fluent in Spanish and English.
That plan was put on hold in 2014, when he had to leave the San Francisco Bay Area, where he was working as a medical interpreter, to move to Bakersfield to support his father, who was experiencing medical issues.
Though he had to leave his new career behind, the move to Bakersfield was a blessing in disguise. He began to volunteer with the Gay and Lesbian Center of Bakersfield, where he helped out with events at first then moved into work he was more interested in, such as suicide prevention.
“It means alot to me to be able to provide help to this community when i have experience in these things personally. Just to be able to be there,” said Duran.
Through recognition of his work with the Gay and Lesbian Center, Duran was referred to a job with the Dolores Huerta Foundation, where he was hired in as an Equality Organizer in January 2016.
“When this position opened up, people were like, ‘Oh my god. You’re doing this work for free. I can only imagine what you can do if you got paid,’” Duran recalled
Duran, who is gay, says he is able to work well with the young LGBTQ community because he can empathize with what youth are going through.
“I really like the fact that I get to work directly with communities that I can relate to,” he says.
As an organizer, Duran goes to high schools to help out and provide guidance for LGBTQ students, puts on events with DHF that reaches out to people of the LGBTQ community and supporters of the community, and serves as a leader of a youth group for young people in the LGBTQ community.
Duran’s experience coming out to his religious family was not an easy one.
“I started feeling uncomfortable with myself and my sexuality,” he explains. “I kind of felt pushed away from that [Catholic] community because I didn’t feel that I was welcome, and I didn’t feel like it was the place for me to be because sometimes I wouldn’t even feel safe.”
He was nervous come out to his parents, as he didn’t think they would take it well. He decided to write them a letter and left it up to them to talk when they were ready.
“My mom mostly felt like, ‘Oh, I failed as a mother.’ Then she would say, ‘Maybe if you move back in and we can go see a priest and figure out what you’re going through.’ My dad was more ‘whatever’ about it,” says Duran.
Duran’s aunt, one of the first adults he came out to as gay, provided more support.
“Her response was, ‘God loves you. God made you who you are, and there’s nothing wrong with you.’ That meant a lot to me because she’s very, very religious,” Duran recalls.
Duran sees his work with the LGBTQ community as connected to broader social justice movements in the Bakersfield area, especially the immigrant rights movement.
“All the people that are doing social justice work, even though we’re all working on different things, there’s those points when we unite when we need to, and I think it’s really important to keep that going,” says Duran, adding that he’s proud that the Kern community consistently shows up to advocate for social justice issues.
Duran says one of the most rewarding parts of his job is helping young people find pride within themselves, even when they are going through difficult times similar to what he experienced when he first came out to his family.
“I’m very proud of my sexual orientation,” Duran says. “I’m very proud of the work that I do and the people that I represent.”