Hugo Córdova Quero, Ph.D., Latin American queer theologian, was born in 1969 in Argentina near the Andes wine country. His family had been Protestants for four generations, with clergy on both sides of his family. His great-grandparents had converted to the Pentecostal Methodist Church when it split from the Methodist Church in 1909. Hugo’s parents divorced, and he was raised with his mother’s family. They moved to Buenos Aires in 1975, where his grandfather was a pastor. The Pentecostal Methodist maintained an episcopal leadership, so the bishop was an influential and revered faith leader.
At that time, Argentina provided refuge for Christians from Chile who fled the totalitarian regime there. The Buenos Aires church was multicultural, with refugees from several countries. On March 24, 1976, the Argentine military staged a coup d’etat. Growing up under a military dictatorship marked Hugo’s life deeply. He recalls that their bishop was called before military leaders for interrogation regularly. Fearing the bishop could be imprisoned at these sessions, the congregation and pastors gathered to pray for his safe return every week in Hugo’s living room. Although he was too young to fully comprehend the grave risks, Hugo remembers running to the bus stop next to his home to hug the bishop upon his return. Military police were stationed outside their church, in passageways, and outside restrooms. Given these unsafe times, Hugo reflects that participating in worship was an act of faith and courage. Fear was pervasive during this period as many persons were arrested or disappeared. It is estimated that 30,000 persons were killed between 1976 and 1983 under military rule. Faith kept Hugo’s family and the growing congregations together during these difficult times.
Hugo’s elementary education was under military rule. He attended an evangelical school that was about 35 miles from his home. Although there were Roman Catholic schools nearby, his family wanted him educated in an evangelical tradition. Because of the dangers of traveling to and from school, a family member traveled with him to school and back home every day.
Hugo’s mother was studying for a university degree and working in a lab, so his grandmother was his primary caretaker. She was understandably protective and did not allow him to play outside the home. Therefore, he spent these years at home reading sci-fi books and listening to jazz and classical music. His family did encourage a breadth of knowledge, including languages. He recalls reading books in his grandfather’s library. As a child and a teenager, he read theology and church history extensively, cultivating his passion for what would become his expertise. It was his grandfather who gave him a set of science encyclopedias for his eighth birthday, where he learned about the theory of evolution.
When Hugo was 12 years old, he graduated and entered high school. He decided he did not want to go to another church-affiliated school, so he enrolled in a nearby bilingual private school—German and Spanish. In Argentina, high school is expected to prepare students for a vocation. Hugo chose education as the focus of his study. He read Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. He also read for fun writings by Michel Foucault without knowing at the time that they would become foundational to his later academic work. It was also during this time that he experienced a call to be a minister. He felt this conviction strongly; however, his family was not pleased because they knew the difficulties and challenges of being a pastor.
Two other events during his first year of high school also deeply affected Hugo’s life. First, Argentina returned to democratic rule. Secondly, he fell in love for the first time—with another boy of the same age at church. This was a new experience for him—to spend time and talk with someone with whom he formed a deep bond. The relationship lasted eight years. Because such a bond was unacceptable in the church, his boyfriend left the church at age 16. At age 17, Hugo came out to his bishop, who did not reject and excommunicate him but instead prayed with him for God’s guidance. At age 18, he became the youngest deacon in the church. However, the pastors and deacons were increasingly condemnatory of his gay identity and relationship. Hugo found the situation increasingly untenable, so at age 19, he left the church that had nurtured him throughout his life.
He remembers waking up at three o’clock in the morning with panic not knowing what would happen to his soul after leaving the church. The Pentecostal faith had been so deeply ingrained in this being that Hugo found himself very troubled about his salvation. He became involved in a Protestant church. He started studying law at university, but that was not satisfying. With the encouragement of the local community, he began studying theology at the ecumenical seminary ISEDET, in Buenos Aires in 1993. Hugo’s study was enriched by a faulty there that included several well-known religious thinkers of that day: José Míguez Bonino, José Severino Croatto, Pablo Sosa, and Alberto Ricciardi, among others. Two life-changing experiences during his seminary years were: reading Strangers and Friends: A New Exploration of Homosexuality and the Bible by Michael Vasey and a course with Lambert Schuuman on the Apostles’ Creed, which deeply helped him rethink his beliefs.
The ISEDET University administration did not have a positive perspective on diverse expressions of sexuality, although some faculty members, such as Míguez Bonino, supported Hugo. The Rev. Roberto González, a previous ISEDET graduate, had founded the first MCC congregation in South America on November 29, 1987, in Buenos Aires. Rev. González and his partner Norberto D’Amico became Hugo’s trusted friends and colleagues. While he thrived in his studies, Hugo felt like a second-class student there because he was known to be gay.
During seminary, Hugo worked pastorally with homeless people in downtown Buenos Aires. He recalls that this taught him a lot about the reality of life for people and what they expect from someone from a religious organization. He firmly believes that it is not just nice words but one’s actions that really count. It was a powerful experience to break bread with them, to have lunch in the soup kitchen program, to have bible study where they brought their struggles to the reflection, and drink tea from paper cups —something that at the time was not considered good manners in Hugo’s family upbringing— with them. He learned that being a religious leader is not a position of authority. It is to be someone who can invite others to be together in communion.
Also during this time, Hugo was involved in global ecumenical networks, including the World Council of Churches, the Latin American Council of Churches, The United Council for Christian Higher Education, and the World Alliance for Christian Communications, among others. He served on several commissions related to youth, ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue, and Christian higher education, often as chair of the commission. As he completed his seminary studies in 1998, he was forced out of the Protestant Church due to his public stance as a gay man. The bishop essentially blacklisted Hugo and asked other faith leaders not to accept him. While he received support from some of the ecumenical leaders with whom he had worked, Hugo was left without a faith community and his participation in the ecumenical world for several years. Therefore, he was moved when a Reformed congregation in Buenos Aires invited him to preach there and be part of their community.
In December 1998, Hugo participated in the World Council of Churches General Assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe. There he became acquainted with Louie Crew Clay —founder of Integrity— who offered to help Hugo find educational opportunities in the U.S. He applied and was accepted into the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) in Berkeley, California. However, arranging a visa to study there took an extended time. Providentially he secured the visa and arrived in the U.S. in August 2001. The 9/11 attack happened shortly thereafter, which would have prevented him from being able to enter the U.S. after that.
Hugo’s ensuring academic work was interdisciplinary. Immigration and refugee status had long been an aspect of his experience and thinking, as was sexuality and queer theory. He earned an M.A. degree in Systematic Theology and Critical Theories (Feminist, Queer, and Postcolonial) from the Graduate Theological Union in 2003. Marcella Althaus-Reid, who had defended her dissertation at St. Andrews University in Scotland the year Hugo started seminary, became Hugo’s advisor—along with Ibrahim Abdurrahman Farajajé—as he began his doctoral studies. Althaus-Reid deeply informed Hugo’s thinking, and he was moved that she took the time to cultivate a friendship with him. Both his first international academic article and book chapter were published in 2003 and 2004 in a journal and a book edited by Althaus-Reid.
He completed a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies in Religion, Migration, and Ethnic Studies at the GTU in 2009. He did postdoctoral research at the Iberoamerican Institute at Sophia University in Japan from 2009-2011. During these years, he taught at several schools, including Starr King School for Ministry, Pacific School of Religion, St. Stephen College (Alberta, Canada), and Universidad Nacional de Córdoba (Argentina).
In 2014 Hugo was invited by the Old Catholic Church in the U.S. to be part of their community. He received his ordination there. As he traveled and spoke in different faith communities in Latin America, he helped form other Old Catholic communities. However, since the cultural experience was quite different from the U.S.—being both multi-cultural and interfaith—the Latin American communities decided to join together as the Ancient Church of the Americas with Hugo as a bishop. Hugo’s ministry here aims to empower persons with an understanding of the sacred text, the history of the Christian faith, and the development of the beliefs that can be a tool for human rights, democracy, and sexual justice. Since 2009 Hugo has been the Associate Professor of Critical Theories and Queer Theologies, being the first person in the world whose job title included queer theologies. He has also taught and lectured at Jakarta Theological Seminary, the National University of Singapore, and the Monash University in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
(This biographical statement was written by Mark Bowman from an interview with Hugo Córdova Quero and online sources and was edited by Córdova Quero.)
Biography Date: December 2022