By Alejandra Alarcon
Over the last few years, there has been more acceptance of gay students in eastern Coachella Valley high schools, but a lack of support in their community and homes persists – and Lady Gaga wants to do something about it.
The pop star will launch her Born This Way Foundation, an organization created to foster a more accepting society where differences are embraced and individuality is celebrated, on February 29 at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Two Eastern Coachella Valley students are attending the launch: Tony Aguilar, 21, a College of the Desert student from Thermal, and Jessica Pompa, 18, a Desert Mirage High School student from North Shore.
“This wonderful opportunity will place the Eastern Coachella Valley on the front lines of this new foundation aimed at helping youth, a monumental move towards equality and acceptance of youth from all walks of life,” said Aguilar, who is also a Coachella Unincorporated reporter. “I hope we can spotlight the Eastern Coachella Valley and the issues our youth face as they relate to the mission of this foundation.”
Coachella Valley High School and Desert Mirage High School have made strong efforts to curb bullying with clubs like The Gay Straight Alliance, which strives to create unity between all students and build a positive atmosphere on campus. Another CVHS club aiming to make a difference is Safe Zone, led by cheerleading coach Salvador Becerra, a former student at that school.
“Safe Zone is not just for lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) students, but for anyone that’s being bullied like special needs students,” said Becerra. “The purpose is to establish a safer learning environment and educating teachers on how to approach conflicts.”
Even with these supportive clubs for LGBT students, there is still a long way to go.
“Teachers don’t do anything when kids are being called ‘fag’ or ‘joto.’ We need to teach students that we are all human,” said Bennie Alvarez, senior and president of Gay Straight Alliance at Coachella Valley High School. “You always just want to fit into the profile people see you as. But no matter what you do, there will always be something wrong with you. I was scared of coming to school the next day after I came out on Facebook.”
According to Thomas Montenegro, a junior at Coachella Valley High School, it is not easy to gain peer acceptance. “I’ve known I was gay for a very long time. I was afraid. I already fit all the stereotypes. I’m in chorus and theatre, but being involved made it easier to come out when everyone was already on my side,” said Montenegro. “People in this community are not used to ‘different’ because it’s so small that we all just become one. Eventually they’re going to have to step out of their comfort zone. If they’re not ready for a bigger world, they’re screwed.”
Jessica Pompa said it is also difficult for LGBT students to feel accepted by traditional Hispanic parents who are more closed-minded about homosexuality.
“I have support from people at school, but not from my parents. It’s just sad because I hear them talk bad about gay people,” said Pompa. “I don’t blame parents for not being accepting, that’s just the way they were raised. Culture has a lot to do with the way they feel about LGBT people.”
Pompa added, “What would they think if I came out to them?”
Some students rely on the Bienestar youth group that provides support in a safe and confidential environment from a local office in the eastern Coachella Valley. Their mission is to encourage LGBT people to express themselves freely and reduce HIV infections among youth through prevention messages, and encouragement of safe sex.
However, one group in the Eastern Coachella Valley is not enough to create unity between residents.
“It is hard to come out in Coachella because there is no place to go to, to feel accepted,” said Montenegro.
The Eastern Coachella Valley is deprived of LGBT culture acceptance. High schools have made great changes for LGBT students, it is time for the community and parents to follow up with the movement students and faculty have started.
“I had to masquerade myself in high school in order to survive. It’s hard for people to reveal their identities when they feel different, but parents have to deal with the same process to accept it and tell people that their child is gay,” said Becerra.
He added, “If I walk, hand in hand, with my partner into the Cardenas in Coachella. I’m pretty sure I’ll be turning heads.”
Pompa is hopeful that the Born This Way Foundation will help her and other students in the Eastern Coachella Valley.
“It’s about me going out there and learning about all this,” she said. “It’s about becoming empowered.”
Visit www.facebook.com/coachellauninc for Tony Aguilar’s updates from the Born This Way Foundation launch February 29. For more information and to watch the launch online, visit www.bornthiswayfoundation.org.