Jesus Barrios has spent a lot of time thinking about identity.

For years, he hid one aspect about himself from everyone but close friends and family, afraid of the treatment he might get from classmates - or from the government.

All the while, Barrios buried another piece of himself away from even his family, watching his mother make plans that were completely at odds with who he knew he was.

Now 21, the Cal State San Bernardino student says he's realized there's nothing wrong with what he calls his "statuses." But because so many people are afraid to speak even half of the sentence he's about to utter, his usually friendly and thoughtful voice becomes forceful.

"I'm undocumented, and I'm queer," Barrios says. "That's part of who I am."

Not all of who he is, the public health major adds. But given the discrimination he says is applied to members of both groups, Barrios has joined with others in similar situations to pool their resources and experiences.

The first step, these budding activists say, is sharing their stories.

One story

Barrios begins his in Tijuana, Mexico, where he lived until he was 3.

When he was old enough to understand, his parents explained they had left their home there and come to Los Angeles for safety and job opportunities. They told him the move, which he was too young to remember, classified him as an illegal immigrant.


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But he didn't have much reason to talk about it until he was a senior at Eisenhower High School in Rialto and the time came to apply for colleges and college loans.

"You see the application, and you see boxes asking for your social security number and your place of birth," he said. "When you've grown up hearing comments like we're 'just a bunch of job stealers,' you're afraid to reach out."

After 18 years of keeping his illegal entry a secret from everyone but close friends, Barrios did reach out. He told his high school guidance counselor, who helped him enroll at Chaffey College and find the financial aid to pay for it.

After two years, he transferred to Cal State, having internalized a lesson about trust.

"The more you share, the more doors you're opening," he said. "There's a lot of people who have sympathy. ... They're willing to contribute in any way they can."

It was also sometime during his senior year that he came to terms with the fact that he is gay, he said.

First he told his friends, then worked up the nerve to tell his mom that the dreams of marriage she'd expressed would need at least a little tweaking.

"I don't want to say I disappointed her, but that's the way it felt," Barrios said.

The hardest people to tell he was gay were those he knew best, he said - it felt like confessing a lifelong lie.

Yet even after he saw his family's unconditional love return, fear of deportation kept him from revealing his undocumented status to the wider world until a year later, when he was 19.

"I guess growing up I reserved myself from expressing my feelings for both identities," he said. "So during my teenage years, as I formed my identity, I also denied it."

Admitting one deeply hidden aspect of his identity - and seeing the good that came of it - made it easier to admit the other, he said.

But he knows his experience - some bullying, some fear, lots of awkwardness - isn't universal among illegal immigrants or the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

"That's just my story, right?" he said. "There's tens and thousands of stories of LGBT(Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, and Transgender) youth who don't have it as easy as I have it, who are kicked out of their homes and have nowhere to go. ... So many illegal immigrants deal with a deportation order. That's so traumatizing and hard for undocumented children."

Opening the 'double closet'

The outline of Barrios' story sounds familiar to Javier Hernandez.

A 22-year-old Chaffey College student who is also here illegally and is gay, Hernandez met Barrios' brother after several years of activism.

Hernandez marched against Proposition 8's effort to outlaw gay marriage in 2008 and manned the phones to drum up support for the DREAM Act's path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants in 2010. 

Few of those activists identified with the other campaign, Hernandez said, but it's the same struggle.

"It's the same oppression from law," he said. "Laws are being created to put people down and dehumanize people within the two movements."

And hate crimes afflict both groups, he added.

"These movements intersect," Hernandez said. "We can work together."

Hernandez and Barrios did just that at the University of Redlands on Jan. 25. Branching out from what has before been rank-and-file work on one campaign or the other, they spoke on a panel hosted by the LGBT-rights group Equality California about the added challenges of being illegal immigrants.

And they plan to do it again March 19 at Cal State, at an event Barrios is helping organize to recognize the struggles of gay members of other groups he says are oppressed, such as black women.

They hope it's the beginning of a surging effort.

"When I don't have to worry about dealing with explaining myself, and why I do the work I do, and why it's important, I think that's when I have success," Barrios said.

Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, said this is what all progressive groups should do.

"All of these issues affect all of us, even if you or I are not part of the group," Kors said. "That's why we help with poverty issues, and why we're so supportive of the undocumented community."

Some people disagree with these goals, saying homosexuality is wrong or that illegal immigrants should be deported because they broke the law. It's not a lack of awareness or compassion but a difference of opinion, they say.

But Hernandez said experience with one marginalized group can make it easier to appreciate, and help with, others.

"I grew up in a double closet, in a way," he said. "Once you've gotten out of one, it's easier to go through the other."