When you are young and queer in Mexico, coming out is not an option.
I was born and raised in Durango, a relatively conservative state in which the mere topic of homosexuality is rarely discussed. Like most kids, growing up, I didn't know what being gay really meant. I was simply told that this was a very bad thing, a way for Satan to separate us from God, and that I didn't have anything to worry about, because I wasn't “one of them.”
As I grew older, homophobic slurs became a staple of everyone’s vocabulary. I never knew anyone who was out, and no one in my grade ever mentioned any sort of doubts about their sexuality. As far as everyone was concerned, we were all straight. During my time there, many of my teachers felt the need to express their opinions and it was not uncommon for them to say hurtful things about LGBT people. For example: “Even though you should be respectful, this is wrong and you should not do it.” Or: “Let’s face it; humans live their lives looking for excitement. Once you feel like you've tried everything and you are bored with your life, people become gay, which is why there are so many gay celebrities.”
This was widely accepted by my classmates. It created an extremely unsafe environment, where bullying and harassment towards members of the LGBT community were seen as normal and acceptable.
When I got to tenth grade, I decided to move to the United States, looking for a more diverse and accepting place to live, and to this day, that has been the best decision I have made. The first time I walked on campus, I noticed a bulletin board for my school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. I was very surprised by it, but I couldn’t have been happier. As I walked around campus, many doors had Safe Space stickers. Later that same day, I got to meet my adviser, who is an openly gay man, and I learned that he was just one of many in our school. These things may have seemed small for a lot of people, but they meant the world to me. I had never heard of anything like this before, but I immediately knew that I had finally found a place where I could be safe.
Today, I am incredibly grateful for both of my experiences. Being in Mexico was hard, but it taught me a lot about what it means to be queer, and it made me more sensitive to other people's identities and their struggles. It helped me become stronger, and gave me something to fight for. I will be graduating from Rutgers Prep this June, and I am really happy to be a part of this community. Attending a school that allowed me to be who I am helped me to form a strong identity, and to become a much happier person.
Paulina Aldaba is a high school senior at Rutgers Prep and a GLSEN Student Ambassador.