Joseph Palacios was born in 1950 in Glendale, California to Joe and Martha Palacios. His father, a sixth-generation Texan with a strong social consciousness, worked as the grounds manager at a golf course in the Los Angeles area and later had a landscape business. Joseph helped his dad with this work and got to visit the homes of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and other celebrities. His mother's family highly valued and encouraged educational pursuits. Joseph was a top student at St. Pius X Prep, a Catholic boarding school. In 1969, he started college at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Partly due to his father's influence, Joseph became a Chicano activist during these years. He was a supporter of Cesar Chavez' farmworker organizing and helped organize a rally to back him at college. Joseph helped organize MEChA, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan there, which was the Chicano student organization. During his sophomore year, he studied liberation theology in Cuernavaca and Mexico City. 1969 was, of course, also the year of the Stonewall Rebellion in New York, leading Joseph to get involved in organizing gay students at Santa Cruz. It was during his time in Mexico that he became good friends with gay American students also studying there. Upon his return, he started working with a psychologist and coming out to his friends.
In 1973 he moved on to grad school at University of California, Berkeley. This was a tumultuous time in protest movements there--the anti-Vietnam War movement was peaking, the feminist and gay movements were growing. The tension he was experiencing at the school led Joseph to leave and get work in corporate management in San Francisco. Beginning in 1974, he lived the corporate lifestyle: made good money, bought a home--and also had a boyfriend much of that time. His work was in human resources, often handling employee grievances and civil-rights complaints. It became increasingly difficult for Joseph to uphold the corporate management position in these situations, which lead to his resignation 1980 with a generous settlement.
The next couple of years was a time of transition and searching. Joseph got involved in local politics in Oakland and was rewarded with a job with the state. He also struggled with heavy drinking, his relationship with his boyfriend was falling apart, and he spent the money from his settlement rather quickly.
In 1983 he went back home to family in Los Angeles. The priest in his family parish encouraged him to try seminary education. So he enrolled at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo. He recalls being asked if he was gay at that time and responding honestly and openly. However, sexuality was not a topic of conversation there. The expectation for all students was celibacy. The seminary time was a time of healing and growth for Joseph leading to his decision to become a priest and being ordained in 1987.
Over the next few years he was a priest in an African-American parish, got involved in community organizing in immigrant Latino and Filipinos communities and taught at Loyola Marymount University. Then in 1992 he joined the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in order to finish his doctorate in sociology at UC Berkeley.
Joseph joined the faculty at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. in 2001, where he teaches in the Liberal Studies and Latin American Studies Programs. In 2007, he published The Catholic Social Imagination: Activism and the Just Society in Mexico and the United States (University of Chicago Press). He was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship for Chile and taught a doctoral seminar on "Religion and Society in the United States" and conducted research at Universidad de Santiago's Institute for American Studies from March-July 2009.
He is the Director of the Catholics for Equality Foundation, a member of the board of directors of The D.C. Center (LGBT community center) of Washington, D.C., and is the Political Co-Chair of the D.C. Steering Committee of the Human Rights Campaign. As well he is a member of the Board of Governors of the HRC. In October 2009 Palacios received a White House appointment to serve on the Board of Visitors of the Western Hemispheric Institute of Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) at Fort Benning, Georgia, which scrutinizes WHINSEC’s curriculum and practices, particularly in regards to human rights issues. He serves as a consultant on religion, culture, and LGBT issues for the U.S. Department of State and the Organization of American States.
(Information for this biographical statement taken from a Metro Weekly interview with Will O'Bryan published September 30, 2010, with additional info provided by Joseph Palacios.)
Biography Date: July, 2011
Catholic (Roman) | Human Rights Campaign | Author/editor | Clergy Activist | Latinx | Theology