“The important message for young queer people,” says Isaias Guzman, a freshman in political science at UC Berkeley, “Is that they have the ability to make it better right now at their own schools. There’s this idea that you need to wait it out until college—don’t bother the bullies, just stay strong. But the real message is don’t be afraid of the bullies, stand up for yourself. You have that power. You should not be degraded and pushed out.”
Isaias knows first-hand that high school students can do it. He did it at Bell High School working with other youth in the Gay-Straight Alliance Club. Isaias changed the climate at his school for LGBT students. “I was very quiet and timid,” Isaias recalls, until, as a sophomore, he got involved with GSA Network (a LIberty Hill grantee) and went to that organization’s three-day activist camp. He learned to be a community organizer.
Back at school, he created a complaint form that students could use to report and document harassment and slurs, which had occurred in previous years and didn’t seem to be taken seriously. “L.A. Unified School District has a policy, but it wasn’t being implemented,” he says, and when he presented his complaint form to school administrators, he was met with resistance. “They were definitely not wanting to do it for some reason. It took a lot of effort. All they had to do was post it on the website and on boards but they pushed back.”
So Isaias kept pushing, and then contacted Project 10, the LAUSD program that provides education and support services for LGBT youth and assists in implementing district policies that affect them.
School administrators finally “got serious” about the anti-bullying campaign Isaias led. In his senior year, several LGBT students “who had either been doing their own thing or were closeted” made a point of thanking Isaias and the GSA Club at Bell for changing the school’s climate for LGBT students and for creating a positive precedent.
“Those types of conversations are the reason for what I do,” says Isaias, “The fact that those individual students had experienced the change.”
Isaias continued his activism as a statewide youth trainer, policy advocate and now board member for GSA Network. He won a prestigious Point Scholarship and also attended the first United Nation Consultation on anti-LGBT bullying in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. “The Consultation was an incredibly powerful experience for a low income student who has never left the country in his life,” he says, “It put things in perspective, I saw all the work being done across the globe for LGBT equality and learned about the different levels of hostility in each country.”
He grew more aware of his identity as a Latino, and “how racism and homophobia are extremely similar.” The “Undocumented and Unafraid” stand that many Dream students have taken as they fight for immigration reform is “a great and powerful act,” says Isaias.
“It’s great they use similar strategies to being out and proud. It creates this idea that these communities are not that different, the LGBT and Latino communities can work together. Recent polls reveal how the Latino community is much more accepting of same-sex marriage. I think we’re building bridges between these two communities.”