Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) Co-President and senior Stella Capetanakis conducts a GSA weekly meeting on Oct. 14 at Bonita Vista High’s Bolles Theater. The club provides a safe space for members of the LGBTQ+ community and sheds a light on different topics educating on LGBTQ+. (Stephanie Lomeli)
Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) Co-President and senior Stella Capetanakis conducts a GSA weekly meeting on Oct. 14 at Bonita Vista High’s Bolles Theater. The club provides a safe space for members of the LGBTQ+ community and sheds a light on different topics educating on LGBTQ+.

Stephanie Lomeli

Rainbow representation

BVH Support of LGBTQ+ students is a twisty road

October 21, 2021

In recent years, more open conversation within our society has opened the door for recognition to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and/or questioning (LGBTQ+) community. These terms refer to a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation. ​​LGBTQ+ members come from all races, nationalities, faiths and socioeconomic classes. Schools can be challenging places for students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, but they can be particularly unwelcoming to LGBTQ+ students. Bonita Vista High (BVH) offers programs such as Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA) and LGBTQ+ centered support groups, which serve as valuable resources for students and safe spaces to speak on topics that matter to them. 

Despite the fact that these programs have shaped and improved many LGBTQ+ youth’s lives, students have described the recurring patterns of hearing slurs and being constantly misgendered. Consequently, this has made them feel uncomfortable and has managed to make BVH an unwelcoming environment for some, putting them at risk and negatively impacting their education. Although BVH has made efforts to be more inclusive over the years, it is clear that there is still a need for improvement in the school’s near future.

Gay-Straight Alliance provides a safe space

Bolles Theater was filled with the sound of excitement and the voices of students happy to be there, enjoying each other’s company. This is the atmosphere of Bonita Vista High’s (BVH) Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) club which has been around for more than five years at BVH and has been an important part of the school’s history. The club has been contributing to the wider conversation on the LGBTQ+ community. 

“[The club] is providing people with a safe space where they don’t have to be scared. [In] GSA everybody’s loving and accepting of each other,” Co-President and senior Carolina Levine said.

Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) Co-President and senior Stella Capetanakis conducts a GSA weekly meeting on Oct. 14 at Bonita Vista High’s Bolles Theater. The club provides a safe space for members of the LGBTQ+ community and sheds a light on different topics educating on LGBTQ+. (Stephanie Lomeli)

According to GSA advisor and International Baccalaureate (IB) French and Spanish teacher Marina Dillingham, the club was extremely active in the BVH community. In the 2019 to 2020 school year, before the pandemic started, the club had done a presentation educating BVH staff on LGBTQ+ topics. The club was also invited to present during spring break at San Diego State University. 

“[GSA] had [been] invited to different places, and then the pandemic shut us down and it was quite depressing. It was a sad year,”  Dillingham said. “Last year [2020 to 2021] we had meetings online and maybe four or five people showed up to every meeting, and then we stopped doing them altogether. Now this year is back with a vengeance because it [GSA] is huge.”

Despite the setback, the club began to rebuild. Meetings were held in room 305, starting off with as little as five members at the beginning of the school year. Though this quickly changed as the club’s roster skyrocketed to new heights, with as many as 45 to 60 attendees each meeting and 120 members registered in their Google Classroom. With this size, club leaders could not physically fit all the members in Dillingham’s classroom and had to move their meetings to the Bolles Theater.

“When I first went to GSA, it was small. It’s fun because it wasn’t people that [Levine] usually saw. It was just our little group of gays that we could talk to,” Levine said. “The GSA this year is incredibly huge. It’s mainly a group that’s meant for educating [members on] LGBTQ+ topics, or providing a safe space so that everyone can be who they are.” 

The pandemic had suspended all of GSA’s present and future plans, although the club had done more activities in the past, such as movie evenings at the school and a food fair. Though this didn’t stop former GSA Co-Presidents and BVH alumni Vic Webb and Faith Talamantez, from striving to accomplish recognition for the club during their graduating year. 

“The seniors towards the end of the [2020 to 2021] year got the rainbow tassels and rainbow stoles. [In years prior, the] kids who weren’t able to experience the club that year had a symbol on their graduation gown to signify what [they had] done in [the] club. This [was the] big thing we were trying to accomplish for the entire senior year class,” Webb said. 

However, despite the efforts of awareness and education GSA has provided over the years, the stigma of being queer remains. During a club fair this school year, GSA had an incident where a student came to their booth and mocked the group. Those who mocked them then posted pictures of the members, calling them the f-slur in the caption. Despite the incident, Levine still believes that BVH has a safe environment for people who identify as LGBTQ+.

“​​There are ignorant people everywhere that [don’t] make it easy. [Though] when I first came out of the closet, the place where I felt safest and most comfortable was at BVH, because of the GSA [club] and the support groups we have,” Levine said. “I think most of the teachers, in general, are very supportive and do provide a lot of help.” 

Despite the protection of LGBTQ+ students present at BVH, many still felt uneasy at times. Talamantez shared a similar sentiment about the atmosphere regarding LGBTQ+ acceptance at BVH. 

“If you were to hold hands with a girl, nobody’s going to punch you because of it. But there were definitely a good amount of people saying slurs just walking through the hallway. You would hear the f-slur all the time on campus. So did I feel my physical safety was in danger? No. But I wouldn’t go out of my way to out myself to other people, because I knew that there were people who would call me slurs,” Talamantez said.

Webb also chimes into the conversation and warns students to watch what they say because their words can make all the difference in someone’s life.

“Using slurs is not funny anymore and not something that’s taken lightly, especially when there could be so much going on in someone’s life and hearing something [like] that could be very detrimental. People need to realize that it’s not cool or funny to say rude things, just be decent human beings,” Webb said. 

Both Levine and Talamantez shared these experiences despite the school’s best efforts. Dillingham feels there is room to improve the atmosphere surrounding LGBTQ+ discussion which is why she has integrated LGBTQ+ identity into her lessons in both French and Spanish. 

“There are LGBTQ+ people of every ethnicity, race, background, religion; rich, poor, it doesn’t matter. It’s an internal thing, it’s not something you choose. It’s a group that has been historically marginalized, so we [need to] recognize their value and existence and the fact that they have the same rights and feelings as everyone else. That’s what you need to keep bringing up because people need to be aware and educated, otherwise things won’t change, and they need to,” Dillingham said.

Dillingham believes that no matter what subject a teacher is covering, there is a way to include everyone. She encourages teachers to teach and learn about LGBTQ+ topics because “it’s a human topic.” She furthers her point by bringing up the lack of open representation within the BVH staff. 

“One thing that I find a bit of shame for our LGBTQ+ students is that I’m sure we have LGBTQ+ staff members, but none of them, as far as I know, talk about it or come out. I don’t mean [for the staff to] come out necessarily [to] talk to everyone, but just in the club because somebody has to represent [and] empower [the students]. So I think that we need more visibility, the more you see something, the more normal[ized] it becomes,” Dillingham said.

For Talamantez, coming into her freshman year, she was unsure of who she was. She had been the president of the GSA club at Bonita Vista Middle (BVM) in eighth grade which helped her come to terms with who she was, as well as be much more comfortable with the idea of not being straight. Even then, this was not always the case.

“When you first realize that you might be a member of the LGBTQ+ community, at least for me, it was not necessarily a happy time. I was freaking out because I knew that I had family members who were homophobic. I didn’t necessarily want to tell all of my friends and lose all of my friends if they weren’t supportive,” Talamantez said.

By the time that she got to high school, and began joining clubs that were LGBTQ+ friendly, she had started becoming a part of a community. She had found a place of like-minded people, where they could say to each other; “Hey, we’re also queer and it’s totally okay to be that way and there’s nothing wrong with you,” according to Talamantez. She believes that being a part of clubs like GSA helps you become much more comfortable with who you are and feel safer being yourself.

“By the time that I got to senior year, I had become very comfortable being who I was in front of my teachers and my peers, no matter what circumstance we were in. Whereas my freshman year, I was still a bit timid, shelled up in terms of my personality and who I really was. Over time, you realize that the environment that you’re in, and the friends that you have care about you, no matter who you like. So going through high school encourages you to be yourself, ” Talamantez said.

During Webb’s freshman year, they were extremely closeted. They had come out to themselves in eighth grade, but pretended as though it had not happened. Then due to their friends and the environment that they had been in because of groups such as GSA, they felt comfortable coming out. 

In a poll of 699 BVH students conducted by the Crusader on Oct. 14, students were asked to respond if they identified as part of the LGBTQ+ community and what part of the community they identify as. (Nicole Macgaffey)

“I gained a sense of confidence in myself, [thinking] this is something that I want to do. So I came out. [Though my] family life definitely affected that confidence immediately after I came out because I [then] became super self-conscious. But once you do, it can give you a stronger sense of self-respect and self-worth, because you’re [thinking],All these people are telling me this is not who I should be, but this is who I am and I’m going to own it.’ So that’s what I started to do. [My sexuality] was just another quality of me; it doesn’t define me, but it is part of who I am and I definitely don’t hide it anymore,” Webb said.

Webb continues by stating that their journey of self-identity has evolved since they have graduated high school. Whereas towards the end of their senior year, they had used she/her/hers pronouns until they graduated and moved away. Now they use they/them pronouns. They expressed that the encouragement from the communities and the people that they met at BVH had pushed them along in a positive way through their journey. Though they want to remind everyone that being part of the LGBTQ+ community is not an easy thing. 

“I know nowadays, it’s not as taboo to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community as it was 30 years ago. But people sometimes play down how hard it is. There are definitely people who, [like] most of our parents, come from a time where it wasn’t an empowering thing to be a part of the queer community. But the times are changing, and people need to realize that the same bigoted views from before aren’t going to be okay now, ” Webb said. 

Despite the struggles that LGBTQ+ students face on campus, Dillingham encourages students who might feel hesitant or afraid to express themselves as members of LGBTQ + to join GSA so they can meet other students who feel the same way. Dillingham believes that students at BVH are fortunate students to have a GSA on campus, as she’s heard other students talk about the absence of clubs like GSA in other high schools. 

“So join us, come to the meetings and start being part of this community that will help you be part of the larger community, [where] the goal is for us to be comfortable in various groups, not just in our own group. If you start to be comfortable in your own group, then you have the courage and the confidence to venture out in the general population without fear or, at least, with less apprehension than before,” Dillingham said.

Peer Counseling strives for inclusion and empathy

Bonita Vista High’s (BVH) Peer Counseling program acknowledges that sexuality is often a topic that is placed on the backburner of societal discussions. In order to combat society’s neglect of LGBTQ+ individuals, Peer Counseling aims to bring this issue to the forefront of conversations through their support groups. A primary method of inclusion is the program’s creation of a section dedicated to LGBTQ+ individuals and their stories. 

Teacher of the Peer Counseling class and co-coordinator of the program Laura Lowery builds and instills listening, empathetic and supportive skills within her students to maximize the effectiveness of the counseling. As per her role, Lowery coordinates and prepares students to conduct one-on-one sessions with the LGBTQ+ youth of BVH. Additionally, the support groups are completely voluntary.

“We [Peer Counseling] want [the support groups and one-on-one sessions] to be considered a safe place where students are able to talk about things that they might not feel comfortable talking about with friends, family members, a teacher or any other loved one. There are some things that students might struggle with personally, but they don’t know where to go,” Lowery said. “[Students] can [share] without worrying about other people finding out or judging them. [We enforce the] idea of respecting that not everybody wants their personal information shared.”

According to Secretary of the Peer Counseling Club, one of three facilitators for the LGBTQ+ division and senior Renata Araiza, in the beginning of the year, she was able to select from a wide range of topics to become a peer counselor for. Ultimately, she ended up selecting LGBTQ+, as she states that it just “called out to her.” She emphasizes the privacy of the support group by having everyone agree to confidentiality to foster safe space for people. 

“[BVH] needs a place where [LGBTQ+ students] are comfortable to talk about their issues or struggles. Sometimes [it may] not even [be a] struggle, they can just have a really good day and come in and talk about it,” Araiza said. “I feel [as if] becoming an [LGBTQ+ facilitator enables me] to connect with more people on campus.”

Similarly, one of three facilitators for the LGBTQ+ section and senior Stella Capetanakis provides her reasoning for becoming a peer counselor for LGBTQ+ students exclusively. Since she belongs to the community herself, she views it as a perfect opportunity to counsel struggling students who are experiencing similar hardships she endured. 

“They [Peer Counseling program] always asked, ‘Oh, what do you guys want to work with?’ and I [said to myself] ‘Oh my goodness, the LGBTQ+ one because I’m queer!’ I thought, ‘Wow! I have an opportunity to create a loving environment for students who need help or who want to be around other students like themselves, so why wouldn’t I do that?’ It’s a really great opportunity for people, like myself, to be able to [bring] good energy into the world,” Capetanakis said. 

Araiza remains as a peer counselor due to the connections she has established with other students, such as the peer counselors and the individuals she counsels. She furthers that school itself places a blockade on students’ ability to become friends with one another, therefore she utilizes peer counseling as a chance to build those connections. According to Araiza, if it was not for her position, she could pass by queer students by in the halls and not know if that person was struggling with something.

In a poll of 699 BVH students conducted by the Crusader on Oct. 14, students responded to various questions about the LGBTQ+ community. The 17.7% of students who identified as a part of the LGBTQ+ community answered whether they have attended the peer counseling group for LGBTQ+. (Nicole Macgaffey)

“We [students] don’t realize that in a year we spend so much time at school. I feel [that] socializing brightens someone’s day. Personally, it brightens my day when I can talk to people about basically anything. Obviously, in the support group it’s a bit more specialized, but at the same time we can talk about anything,” Araiza said. 

Not only does Peer Counseling serve as a medium for creating friendships, but the LGBTQ+ center specifically brings to light “taboo” topics such as sexuality. Lowery states that by dedicating a center for LGBTQ+ individuals to share, the Peer Counseling program is actively fighting against the continuous trend of allowing sexual orientation to continuously be shut out from discussions.

“They’re [LGBTQ+ students] a group of students who need a lot of support, either because they’re not getting that support at home or with their friends. It can be awkward or uncomfortable to bring up [sexuality] out of nowhere with friends or family. Creating a space where we get to talk about these things makes it more comfortable [for them]. Studies and research have shown that LGBTQ+ students are at higher risk of suicide, higher risk of homelessness and higher risk of depression. We absolutely need to acknowledge that there are difficulties that go along with identifying as LGBTQ+,” Lowery said. 

Over her years, Lowery has noticed the stigma surrounding LGBTQ+ people coming out, even amongst some of her own high school and college friends. Her personal anecdotes have contributed to her cause of what she hopes peer counseling is meant to achieve. Therefore, it is that much more important to Lowery for peer counseling to create a more welcoming environment at BVH. 

“It seems that [in] every phase in my life I’ve had best friends who have come out as gay much later. My high school best friend came out as gay later on in college. My college best friend came out as gay after college,” Lowery said. “This [has] continued to be a theme in my life, and reflecting back, it breaks my heart [thinking], ‘What if it was something I said [or] did that didn’t make them comfortable coming out at that time?’ I want to do everything I can to be supportive, kind, loving and helpful to those students [who] come to terms with and be proud of their sexual identity, because when I was in high school it wasn’t easy at all.”

To Araiza, BVH is not going to their furthest lengths to be as inclusive as possible. She has noticed that students attending the school comment different slurs in the hallway, unaware of the impact it has on LGBTQ+ mental health. 

“The fact that gay is even considered an insult is so sad to me. It’s said as a joke, but I don’t think people understand that by saying those types of jokes, over and over again, [it] desensitizes people to them. If you’re those types of people just walking across the hallway [and] yelling an insult like the f-slur, that’s going to hurt them [LGBTQ+ students]. People should be more considerate of [others] around them. They shouldn’t even verbalize it in a place where they know that there’s queer people just walking around,” Araiza said. 

To assist in the battle for representation, Lowery believes that a solution could simply be talking more about sexuality. Having those conversations with friends, family and loved ones will help destigmatize the misconceptions people have when the topic comes to light. 

“In general, sexuality, whether gay or straight, is considered a taboo topic that a lot of adults and educators are afraid to talk about. There’s a lot of questions and a lot of judgment about it,” Lowery said. “As a school, we can do a better job of educating in those areas for everybody. Relationships and sexuality are a really fascinating topic. Human beings are complicated, and that’s a big part of who we are. But, in a high school setting, we just completely ignore that, and I think we’re missing an opportunity.”

LGBTQ+ BVH Alumni Speak

Three recent graduates share their experiences at BVH

Artemis Divine

Bonita Vista High alumna Artemis Divine poses for a photo insider her dorm at Wells College in Aurora, New York. (Photo provided by Artemis Divine)

“I was born queer. I came out with a rainbow hat. I never tried to hide myself but I did try to [hide] myself from my mother. In the end that never worked. Deep down, I always knew that I was a woman, but I never accepted that because of what my family said,” Bonita Vista High (BVH) alumna Artemis Divine said. 

Divine graduated from BVH in 2021 and is currently a freshman at Wells College in Aurora, New York. Growing up as a member of the LGBTQ+ community has been difficult, as attested by Divine. For Divine, her family members have been unsupportive of her true identity. 

“Being kicked out [during] my junior year opened my eyes and I went on a self-exploration journey. When I identified as a gay individual, I did run into a lot of discrimination, mostly from my mother and my grandmother. [I experienced] verbal [and] physical abuse, but the only thing that really kept me going was the fact that I knew I could get out,” Divine said. 

The struggles that Divine encountered at school took a toll on not only her school work but her mental health. According to Divine, the lack of support for people who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community leads to unhealthy situations. People can begin to feel depressed and disconnected emotionally, socially and academically. 

“I didn’t feel supported a lot in my schooling, and it makes you feel like you’re not normal; it makes you feel like you’re an alien. It makes you feel like an abomination—[like her mom called her]. [It feels as if] you’re a bottom feeder or the end of a shoe and that’s not how queer youth and trans [individuals] should feel. They should feel the opposite of that, [such as] happiness; they should feel like they’re a part of something beautiful because they are,” Divine said.

Being a student at BVH helped Divine discover herself as she had the opportunity to explore new experiences and be a part of several extracurricular activities. She was a part of BVH’s Amnesty International Club, Black Student Union, Cross Country team and the BVH’s student-run newspaper, the Crusader; she described the community of each extracurricular activity as welcoming and encouraged a safe environment for students from different backgrounds and gender identities. 

“BVH was very [in support of] promoting [the] individuality [of students]. For a lot of people [who] have nowhere to go, [BVH] promoted safe places [that] are inclusive,” Divine said. 

Hearing the stories of other members of the LGBTQ+ community helped Divine be more accepting of her identity. She considers them as “powerful” as it allows people to understand other perspectives and take away important lessons that they could implement in their own lives. In the school setting, clubs and institutions can serve as instruments to promote a more welcoming environment for all students. 

“We [LGBTQ+ members] share the same story in [that] we are interconnected by who we are, [based on] our sexuality. Clubs can share more success stories and promote a safe space. Know that not every individual feels safe [and] comfortable sharing their trauma or who they are, so clubs and organizations, institutions, [should] be patient with us,” Divine said. “Eventually, when we feel safe and we know that no one’s going to hurt us, we will open up and [realize that] we’re not bottom feeders and abominations.” 

At first, Divine expressed that she took the obstacles she has faced after conveying her true self to heart. However, over time, she has learned how to overcome those experiences and take them as learning opportunities for the future. 

“In the past, I did take [the challenges] really hard but honestly, [they] built me up and made me stronger.  I’ve had those experiences and I survived through them,” Divine said. “Unfortunately, some people don’t make it out of those kinds of situations. There’s a lot of suicides for queer and trans youth, [as well as] unsolved murders and prison person cases.”

Divine is aware of the stories of other members of the LGBTQ+ community and remains cognizant of their experiences. Divine considers helping fellow LGBTQ+ community members, more specifically the youth, as they are the future, as her purpose in life; she aims to be an advocate for them.

“I try to remind myself of who I am and what I’m still here for, and that’s for younger generations to come. So I can help them, with every ounce of my body, [get] through any situation because I don’t want anyone to go through the situation I went through. But I know I can’t really prevent that, [so] I really want to help assist in any way I can,” Divine said. 

Overcoming adversities as a member of the LGBTQ+ community is challenging, as vouched by Divine’s own experiences. Divine advises LGBTQ+ individuals to commit to a goal they set for themselves while also surrounding themselves with positive influences. 

“Close your eyes and imagine yourself at your happiest, then open your eyes and do everything in your power to achieve that. For [many] LGBTQ+ individuals, [their goal is to] be able to accept and love themselves in any setting. Focus on that and also have a support system. At the end of the day, it’s you against the world, and that goal is extremely important and [can help] you get through the tough times,” Divine said. “Envision your true happiness because it’s key [and]  different for everybody.”

Alicia Verdugo

Bonita Vista High alumna Alicia Verdugo poses for a photo for the San Diego First Gen Scholars organization photoshoot at Balboa Park in April 2021.

“There’s so much work to be done. We [members of the LGBTQ+ community] demand respect and acknowledgement; it’s important to make sure we’re seen and respected,” Bonita Vista High (BVH) alumna Alicia Verdugo said. 

Verdugo was a part of BVH’s graduating class of 2021 and is currently a freshman at the University of California, Los Angeles. According to Verdugo, BVH did not offer sufficient support or resources for LGBTQ+ members at school; some clubs lacked prominence and presence within the environment of the school. 

“I didn’t see that [support and resources] were present in the culture of Bonita,” Verdugo said. “When the administration tries to tell you that they’re here for students—that was never really the case for me or for many of my friends.”

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Verdugo experienced several negative moments in high school such as hearing discriminatory comments from peers. These instances would sometimes be left unnoticed by the teacher, according to Verdugo.  

“I faced a lot of moments in my time in high school that are very memorable and some I just forgot about because I wanted to bury it into my brain,” Verdugo said. “Some teachers would dismiss it [misbehavior of students] and comply with whatever they were doing to me and to other students in the class. [That] really hurt and deteriorated my sense of belonging in the classroom, friend groups, spaces I was in [and] this world.”

Verdugo sees the lack of support for LGBTQ+ students in school as a problem that needs to be solved. She urges school administrators to act upon the issue so the problem does not persist in the future. 

“Those experiences became easier but they shouldn’t be acceptable. As the world becomes more well-rounded, globalized and accustomed to much media [about] LGBTQ+ students and stories, I hope that it becomes easier for other kids right now,” Verdugo said. 

In spite of the challenges Verdugo has faced, she is grateful for the support systems she was able to establish throughout high school. She is thankful for understanding teachers, reliable friends and peers at BVH. 

“Most of my teachers really created a nurturing environment for me to understand and discover myself, and interact with the other people around me,” Verdugo said. “When I was at Bonita, I did have my support systems [that consisted of] my friends and people like me. [Even though there was a lot of things against us], being with my friends and knowing that we’re together, we’re here, we’re alive and we’re existing [helps me move forward].” 

Amidst the struggles she has faced, aside from support systems, Verdugo finds comfort in journaling, listening to music and reading. These coping mechanisms have helped Verdugo to overcome some of the obstacles she has faced. 

“I would get a journal and write about my feelings and what I’ve been going through. [Journaling] makes me understand better just how far I’ve come. [Listening to] music [and] reading were also a really big help,” Verdugo said. “It feels amazing to see all these adults who are queer thrive and survive. [They] do more than survive, they live their beautiful lives in the most authentic way [and] it’s the bravest thing I’ve ever seen anyone do.”

Verdugo described that building a safe and inclusive environment for all students must be a goal that school institutions should work towards. Increasing representation of people from different backgrounds and gender identities, in turn, helps students “feel respected and seen.”

“All we have is each other. Education has a big role in students’ sense of belonging into the world, academic [and learning] spaces. People see[ing] themselves in the world is really important because it has a big impact on their life later on and the course they’re going to take,” Verdugo said.

Overall, Verdugo sees the importance of discovering one’s true self and hopes members of the LGBTQ+ community the best in their journey of being themselves. To Verdugo, the experiences of other LGBTQ+ individuals provide her motivation to get up in the morning and continue living life to the fullest.  

“No matter where you are in your journey of discovering yourself, know that it’s a really brave thing to do, [especially] in a world that is out to get you,” Verdugo said. “Take your time. I know it’s hard, but it gets so much better as you become a freer person. I learned to be more in love with myself and with others like me every day, as I navigate my life, alongside you. It’s so wholesome, pretty and fulfilling; and it gives me a reason to get up again and again even though sometimes I feel like I’m being stepped on.”

Ariel Islas

Bonita Vista High alumna Ariel Islas poses for a photo in her room. Currently, Islas resides in Los Angeles, California, where she works to spread awareness of topics regarding the LGBTQ+. (Photo provided by Ariel Islas)

“I knew very early on in my life that I was not in the right body,” Bonita Vista High (BVH) alumna Ariel Islas said. “I was honestly confused my whole life [about] who I was until I realized when I was around [age] 12 that I needed to completely transition in order to better my life—I did that at [age] 15.” 

Islas graduated from BVH in 2020. Throughout her time in high school, she encountered several negative experiences, including hearing discriminatory statements from her peers. 

“I’ve heard it all,” Islas said. “I would hear people say things about me using female facilities and really degrading comments; one, in particular, was when a group of kids said, ‘What’s wrong with its voice’. ” 

In the midst of the obstacles Islas faced as a student at BVH and as a transgender woman in general, she is able to see a light at the end of the tunnel. According to Islas, surrounding herself with positive influences and not taking negative comments have helped her overcome challenges she has faced as well as the ones she currently encounters.  

“My overall experience at BVH as a trans woman definitely had its pros and cons. Some people cared [about her] and made my high school time beyond worth it and some people were ignorant,” Islas said. “Transphobia is everywhere. Just last week I had a transphobic encounter, but I always remind myself that people who try to hurt, make fun or belittle you are acting from a point in their life that they never heal[ed] from. [They] have issues that they don’t deal with and simply choose to project it on you.” 

Moving forward, Islas wishes for members of the LGBTQ+ community to disregard prejudicial statements from others and realize that such opinions should be considered as independent from how they should perceive themselves.  

“My community [should] learn that the discrimination we face has nothing to do with us and where our lives are going. I see so many people who are seriously depressed and upset about how people do not respect our identities; which is totally valid because I have definitely been there,” Islas said. “It may sting, but we have to keep going, keep dreaming [and] keep using our voice because the world needs [it].” 

In an effort to combat some of the hurdles that many LGBTQ+ individuals face, Islas emphasized the importance of being cognizant of people’s differences at school settings. Doing so, to Islas, helps promote a more supportive environment, especially for LGBTQ+ students. 

“School [is] oftentimes a safe space for many cisgender, heterosexual students, where they are not mocked for their identity. It should be the same for LGBTQ+ students; they should be celebrated at school not judged or made fun of,” Islas said.  

Islas is now advocating for the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community, especially transgender individuals through her job. Presently, she works for Amnesty International Charity. Her responsibilities entail exploring different streets of Los Angeles, spreading awareness about human rights violations occurring in the world, specifically in regards to transgender immigrants. 

“My job is definitely [a form of] advocating for my community because most people I talk to are not even aware of the number of trans women killed in our country, or the lack of medical treatment trans people receive,” Islas said. 

Being an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community derives from Islas’s own personal experiences. She aims to give a voice to fellow LGBTQ+ individuals whose voices are often unheard. 

“When I first came out, I lost a lot of respect, connections and family members. I was at a point where I was so alone that I thought it was because I was transgender,” Islas said. “Now that I have grown more, I know that being trans has nothing to do with it; it has everything to do with the world. People, our governments and different countries all around the world don’t understand trans people and our struggle [and] that’s my motivation.”

Ultimately, Islas sheds light on the significance of not rushing the journey of LGBTQ+ individuals in discovering their true selves. Alternatively, they must focus on their own well-being rather than worrying about what others would say.

“My advice to anyone struggling with owning who they are [is]: It’s okay and take your time. We live in a cis-hetero-dominated world so you’re hesitant about coming out for a very valid reason; you don’t owe people an explanation to your identity,” Islas said. “Your life story is completely up to you, don’t be afraid of owning who you are. [Instead,] embrace it, similar to how a caterpillar embraces becoming a butterfly; it just grows and becomes who it really is.”

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About the Contributors
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Laurinne Eugenio, Editor-in-Chief

I am a senior at Bonita Vista High and a third year staff member on the Crusader. This year, I am co-Editor-in-Chief, and previously was Opinion Editor...

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Jaime Jazo, Features Editor

I am a senior at Bonita Vista High School and this is my second year on staff. I joined newspaper in order to achieve my full potential with my writing...

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Nadia Martinez, Podcast Manager

I am a senior at Bonita Vista High and this is my second year on staff. I’ve always liked how unbiased and informative the crusader was and it was a...

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Stephanie Lomeli, Podcast Manager

I am a junior at Bonita Vista High and this is my first year as a staff member of the Crusader. I am currently one of the three podcast managers. My passion...

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Nicole Macgaffey, CPS and Features Editor

I am a Senior at Bonita Vista High and this is my second year as a staff member for the Crusader. I am now CPS Editor and previously was News Editor. ...

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