A year and a half ago, I moved from the U.S.A. back to my hometown in Durango, Mexico, and my life changed dramatically.
Back when I was in New Jersey, I was my school's GSA president as well as a GLSEN Student Ambassador. While being queer was never easy for me, there was always someone who had my back; I was not alone. Back in Durango things changed rapidly: I went from being a senior in high school to a full-time ESL teacher at a very strict Christian school. Needless to say, things were very different: I wasn't out, I didn't have a GSA anymore, and there was no GLSEN Chapter I could go to. Suddenly, I was alone.
I struggled to find my place in my new environment. At work, teachers would openly shame students based on their gender expression or perceived sexual orientation. Students would use slurs and insult each other on a daily basis. As a teacher, I tried to offer my students a safe space, but there was only so much I could do. If my orientation ever came out, or even my status as an ally, my job was on the line.
Outside of school, things were not very different. Finding support was nearly impossible: many of my friends were openly biphobic or homophobic, and even my therapist told me that the first thing we needed to work on was my orientation, as people were always either gay or straight.
After a while, I realized that I couldn't just sit and do nothing. While I couldn't be very open about my identity, I turned to storytelling as a source of support. Whenever I saw my students hurt by the words of their peers, I would use stories to help the situation. Whenever I was feeling lonely or upset about the things that the people around me would say and do, I would be reminded that I wasn't the only one going through this. Through the Internet, I was able to find people in similar situations who had gotten through them and had been able to make a change.
Storytelling is important because our shared experiences make us stronger. Sharing your story can be very empowering, and knowing that we are not alone can give us the extra boost to keep going.
Sharing your story can help people see from your perspective and understand what you are going through. I have found that sharing stories is the most effective way to change people's attitudes about the LGBT community.
That’s why I’m sharing my story with IGLYO, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer & Intersex (LGBTQI) Youth and Student Organisation. For an upcoming international conference on anti-LGBT bullying, IGLYO is collecting stories from LGBTQI students around the world who have experienced homophobic and transphobic bullying in school. Ultimately, sharing experiences and learning about the experiences of others can help bring visibility to issues that are often ignored.
Being in Durango is still not easy, and I know we still have a long way to go before people fully accept the LGBT community. But I also know that I will always have a safe space online where I am loved and accepted.
Learn more about how to share your story with IGLYO here.
Paulina Aldaba is a former GLSEN Student Ambassador and current ESL teacher who will begin college in the fall.