In a state that has been divided over a heated debate of gay marriage, an 18-year-old boy has changed the face of both sides. Openly gay since freshman year, Sergio Garcia of Fairfax High School in Southern California won the title of prom queen. What some might classify as trying to draw attention or attempt to blur gender lines, Sergio felt an empowering chance.
“More than anything I felt a connection with the prom queen title. A queen is graceful, beautiful, and in charge. That is exactly how I feel about my life at the moment. Not because I want to be a girl. I’m fine with being a boy. It was just a method of expression,” he said.
For Sergio, running for the title was one thing, but winning was something totally different. “When I heard my name I felt a sense of relief and acceptance. I felt like a baby when he first starts to walk. It was the beginning of something big in my life,” he said.
Sergio’s story represents a larger movement taking place in our generation. His experience shows us that gender and sexuality are more deeply embedded in our lives and social interactions than we ever realize. When we hear of Carl Hoover, who at the age of 11, hung himself after being bullied and called “gay,” we must start to acknowledge that large diverse settings, like school campuses, are hotbeds for misinformed opinions that occasionally translate into violent danger.
Would something like this be possible at other high schools? As tough a question that is to answer hypothetically, Sergio offered some insight into how gender roles play a large role in schools.
“Overall, I am very happy that my school was open enough to allow something this big to happen. I feel that schools demonstrate their acceptance by having clubs like the gay/straight alliance and teaching kids about sexuality. Gender roles affect everyone,” Garcia said.
David Bishop, Director of the UCI Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center (LGBTRC), is both happy and nervous about the larger story that Sergio’s experience represents.
“It’s wonderful that there are more and more cultural images in the media representing LGBT people. It’s also great that kids are able to come out a lot earlier than just a decade or so ago,” he says.
But Bishop also stresses that coming out at that age has a lot of risks.
“It is not widely known that a large percent of homeless youth are LGBT. Because of their choice to come out earlier and earlier, while still financially dependent of their families, many are getting disowned and left without any resources,” Bishop said.
Even though Sergio’s story is a wonderful step forward, Bishop emphasized that “we must focus now more than ever on educating families, to ensure that LGBT youth can’t be bullied or put at risk just because of who they are.”
Here at UCI, we are lucky to have a place like the LGBTRC that truly acts as a safe haven and stage for healthy debate. Bishop says his main message to the UCI student body is that the LGBTRC “is for everyone: those who identify as LGBT, those who are questioning their sexuality, or simply those who are straight but support friends and relatives who are LGBT.”
Speaking from my own experience, I can say that whether it’s on a smaller campus like high school, or on a larger campus like UCI, coming out is a remarkable step for any LGBT person. As liberating as it can be to finally embrace a large part of our identity, society pressures adolescent minds to rarely cease thinking about the judgment of others. There is a lot to be said for the strength it takes to come out and still carry an identity that goes beyond stereotypes.
I don’t want to be labeled as a lesbian, much as Sergio doesn’t want to be labeled as gay or prom queen. We want to work towards being who we’re destined to be, without being restricted to the confines of what norms tell us. As I remain unsure what the final months of my time here at UCI hold in store for me, I have made the choice to come out.
Although it is frightening and relieving all at once, I find comfort in Sergio’s own advice to any LGBT youth that are intimidated to come out because of the judgment of their peers — “What’s the worst thing that can happen that people can’t get over?”
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