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Exclusive – Isaias Hernandez sees climate justice as multifaceted

The Gen Z environmental educator, who goes by ‘queerbrownvegan’ on social media, is committed to guaranteeing that the links between the disparate issues feeding into our ecological emergency are well understood. We spoke to him about why centring identity, race, and indigeneity in the conversation is decidedly necessary for this to be achieved.

It would be an understatement to say that Isaias Hernandez, who goes by ‘queerbrownvegan’ on social media, has a deep-rooted understanding of the pivotal role that intersectionality plays in his work.

The environmental educator, whose core mission is to generate productive and inclusive discourse on the multifaceted nature of the climate crisis, uses digital activism as his primary means of influencing tangible change.

Besides creating content, Isaias has spoken with businesses, organisations, and people in power – including, most recently, US Vice President Kamala Harris – to guarantee that his message stretches further than his 115,000 (and counting) follower-strong platform.

We had the opportunity to learn from him the links between the disparate issues feeding into our ecological emergency and why centring identity, race, and indigeneity in the conversation is of the utmost importance in order for this to be achieved.


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A post shared by Isaias Hernandez (@queerbrownvegan)

‘The idea of being an environmentalist didn’t come from a desire to be labelled as one, but more as an embodiment of being able to navigate the world with this unique complexity of growing up surrounded by injustice,’ he says.

A Los Angeles native, Isaias has experienced first-hand the obstacles faced by the lower class residents of his city.

From living off food stamps to struggling with LA’s air quality, he was raised with an acute awareness of how poverty, migration, gender discrimination, and the Earth’s destruction are connected.

Reflecting on the ‘weird dimensions and positionalities’ of this, Isaias explains how it laid the foundations for his journey to becoming an environmentalist who keenly embraces his three coinciding identities, which are bound by the forces of the natural world.

‘Queer ecology taught me that there is no such thing as unnatural because nature doesn’t deem what’s natural and what isn’t, irrespective of what heteronormativity suggests, ’ he says.

‘And my grandparents, who maintained a close relationship with the land both in Mexico and in the US during my childhood, inspired me to welcome my cultural heritage and co-exist with the Earth. Being brown and vegan is hugely influential to me as a result.’

Reaching this point of reclamation has not been without its difficulties, however.

Repeatedly devalued in supposedly progressive spaces – namely academic institutions that regarded his openness as unnecessary to discuss – Isaias felt disempowered as a young person striving to live altruistically.

‘At the time, the word environmentalist was something shameful to attach myself to because the image of what it was didn’t include me,’ he says.

‘My view as an educator is to ensure that other BIPOC and LGBTQ+ individuals know that people like me exist out there. My username was intended to oppose how much whiteness is centred in the US climate movement and get people talking about how to address that.’

Asked how he navigates this as more and more BIPOC influencers are vilified for contributing to capitalism through the creator economy, he asserts that it comes down to honing in on the nuances.

‘How can we label a privileged environmentalist without lived experiences as an ‘expert’?’, he questions. ‘That is an issue of white supremacy to me.’

In other words, Isaias, whose upbringing involved campaigning against injustice and pursuing a degree that would allow him to appropriately communicate to his community, believes apprehension towards dangerous centring is essential if we are to offer marginalised people the support they deserve.

‘We are all doing different work,’ he says. ‘If you have a platform, you must be conscious of that and refrain from shutting others down with binary comments because that’s not a conversation. Be respectful and open minded with your approach.’

He adds that, if we truly seek to redesign the system for future people of colour, spotlighting independent communicators from underprivileged backgrounds should be our aim.

‘They are the ones actually able to develop intersectional identities that are inclusive,’ says Isaias, clarifying that reframing this narrative is particularly crucial for young people.


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A post shared by Isaias Hernandez (@queerbrownvegan)

‘We’re not just youth, we’re experts,’ he continues. ‘I’m trying to bridge the gap between digital strategy and academia because the more we see that as an option the more youth will pursue it.’

This being said, as valuable as bottom-up efforts (like Isaias’) to dismantle harmful structures are, the reality is that top-down decision-making upholds significant influence.

For this reason, to encourage better amplification of marginalised voices in such spaces and consequently generate a transformation driven by representation, Isaias thinks longevity and partnership is the answer.

‘We are no longer in the information age, we are in the age of duration,’ he says.

‘We need to be able to think long-term to create programmes that will be there when we aren’t. Those in leadership should be comfortable confronting institutional damage and accepting that it’s time to co-create and give back to the next generation.’

On this topic of endurance, how is Isaias looking to explore forms of education that can be sustained outside of our institutions? Through constant evolution that aligns with the transitory nature of his audience.

‘I’m always evolving,’ he says. ‘I want to build legacy work that evolves so others can genuinely engage with it.’

To guarantee engagement, Isaias is dedicated to making environmentalism as accessible and entertaining as possible.

‘My goal is to create fun content that showcases the power of young BIPOC in these spaces and diversifies the media entertainment industry,’ he says.

‘People need to be disarmed by comedy and laughter before they enter into difficult conversations.’ Of course, none of this takes precedence over promoting intersectionality, which is Isaias’s primary focus.

As he explains, social, racial, and climate justice go hand in hand, and he considers bolstering recognition of this key in the push for viable solutions to society’s challenges.

‘People are composed of unique, cultural identities – when you start making those intersections you realise how much there is to address,’ he says.

‘Our education is currently based around a very singular model. We’re only taught how to problem identify on one subjective issue, but we’re not asked to critically think of how other things are playing a role in perpetuating it.’

Of the many examples of this, our collective approach to tackling racism is the most pressing.

This is because, as Isaias emphasises, ‘white people remain uncomfortable discussing whiteness,’ which in turn hinders endeavours to rectify the problems it has caused.

‘I am not saying that I want white people to say they’re racist – we’ve all been born in a racist society and benefitted from it, even me – but we’re losing the battle if we aren’t practicing anti-racism,’ he stresses.


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A post shared by Isaias Hernandez (@queerbrownvegan)

‘If white people can easily define climate justice, but don’t know how to talk about racism and white supremacy, they’re refusing accountability.’

Intruigingly, this translates into Isaias’ relationship with veganism, which he views as a movement tainted by racist attitudes, despite its well-meaning intentions.

While, fundamentally, plant-based dietary-choices concern animal liberation, they are often framed as ‘something for white people’ and – on the flipside – inauthentic to the cultural experience of BIPOC.

‘We must remember that our globalised food system is heavily reliant on industrialisation led by white agribusinessmen who figured out the ways in which they could use fossil fuels, privatise land, and displace BIPOC communities to their advantage,’ says Isaias, who finds fault in the movement’s increasing gentrification (and rightly so).

‘Veganism centres white individuals who don’t want to talk about racism or intersectionality but will discuss speciesism and how horrible humans are towards animals.’

So, what can be done to remedy this?

According to Isaias, a universal acknowledgement that veganism should be ‘an embodiment, never a label.’

By steering clear of what the movement has become and deciding to be kind to the planet and all its inhabitants because it’s vital for humanity’s survival, genuine progress will be in arms reach across all facets of society.

And it’s exactly this hopeful messaging that Isaias personifies with his activism.

‘I implement work called ‘evidence based hope’ that recognises there are solutions that are happening on the ground that need to be continued and followed,’ he says.

‘Speaking on a grander scale, the long-term cosmic shift that needs to happen to create this titanic change is revolution.’

Here, Isaias is referring to radicalised action, which is without doubt necessary if we are to stop placing the onus on those most disproportionately affected by the climate crisis to confront it.

On this note, community-centric mobilisation that doesn’t disregard vulnerable people (whether they be disabled, elderly, or young) is the only way forward.

Fortunately, this has already begun to gain substantial traction, especially among Gen Z.

‘The idea of actually including Gen Z in these conversations isn’t to say that we are the future, it’s to say that we are the future leaders that are learning from our leaders today,’ finishes Isaias.

‘As the temperatures rise, so does the resistance. Every time we are dealing with any issue, people will rise. That to me showcases that we are not alone, that we’re in this together.’