Being LGBTQ+ at AFHS

Photo+Credit%3A+Image+by+Tim+Evanson+from+Wikimedia+Commons

Photo Credit: Image by Tim Evanson from Wikimedia Commons

Tiana Gonzales, OwlFeed Opinion Reporter

For students at Agua Fria in recent years being an LGBTQ+ individual has become more acceptable. But I want to highlight the experiences of some of these individuals, the good and bad, so we can better understand our classmates and improve on things that might be lacking. 

LGBTQ+ pertains collectively to people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, and to people with gender expressions outside traditional norms, including nonbinary, intersex, and other queer people (and those questioning their gender identity or sexual orientation), along with their allies.

Even though AFHS has been mostly welcoming to our LGBTQ+ community, 71% of LGBTQ+ students in Arizona schools in the past year have experienced verbal harassment because of their sexual orientation, 61% because of their gender expression, and 55% because of their gender, according to GLSEN’s data. Also according to GLSEN, 30% of LGBTQ+ students also faced physical harassment because of their sexual orientation, 27% because of their gender expression, and 24% because of their gender. 

GLSEN also reported that 12% were physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation, 12% because of their gender expression, and 10% because of their gender. 

Photo Credit: Aahliyah Nichols-Bey

Aahliyah Nichols-Bey, a junior at Agua Fria High School, identifies as lesbian, a woman who likes other women, and she believes that she is safe saying that she is apart of the LGBTQ+ community at Agua Fria. 

Nichols-Bey has prior experience of facing bullying and discrimination for her sexual identity but not at Agua Fria. She believes that teachers don’t treat her differently because she is a part of the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, they are usually really sweet about it.

 For example, a friend of hers said she has recently changed their pronouns to they/them and changed their name as well. They told their teacher this and the teacher now refers to them by their new name and uses their pronouns. 

On the other hand, some students aren’t as nice.

 “Yeah but students are more mean,” said Nichols-Bey, “but it’s not all the students.”

Nichols-Bey believes that Agua Fria is slowly getting better at making LGBTQ+ individuals feel that the school is a place for everyone to feel comfortable and equal. 

Her advice to people to help make Agua Fria a more comfortable and safe space for LGBTQ+ individuals is to keep their thoughts to themselves if they believe the LGBTQ+ community is a bad community. “We don’t need to hear it,” Nichols-Bey said.

Last but not least Nichols-Bey wants people to know, “That we are also humans and we feel the same way others feel.”

Photo Credit: pxfuel

A senior at Agua Fria High School, who asked to remain anonymous because she is not out to her family, identifies as bisexual, a person who likes both men and women. I will refer to this senior as “Luna.”  She believes that she is safe being a part of the LGBTQ+ community at Agua Fria. “Agua Fria is a very open school,”  Luna said. 

Luna doesn’t really have any criticisms about how teachers and students handle talking about the LGBTQ+ community because she feels like it isn’t really talked about in the first place and most of her friends are a part of the LGBTQ+ community. 

But she does think it should be talked about more because it’s a very common thing nowadays, especially for kids in her age group. “I feel like it should be talked about more in like health classes, because usually when they talk about relations in a health class they talk about a guy and a girl,”  Luna said. “They don’t really talk about like a girl and a girl or a boy and a boy.”

But she does have some worries with that. “But at the same time there are people that are obviously religious,”  Luna said. “And we wouldn’t want to make them uncomfortable.” 

Luna feels that Agua Fria is actively trying to make itself a place for everyone to feel comfortable and equal. It can improve by letting LGBTQ+ students know it’s a safe place and make other students know that they need to respect each other no matter what sexuality someone is and no matter who they are, you just need to respect each other. 

And last but certainly not least Luna wants people to know that if someone comes out to you, you should hug them, let them know you’re there for them and that you’re gonna support, respect, and love them regardless of what they like and or what they are.  It is a very personal and really hard thing to do to come out of the closet to someone. So don’t tell anybody else they told you that because maybe they don’t want everybody to know just yet.

“Tell them you’re gonna be there for them and gonna love them because when you’re not able to say who you love it’s a really hard thing to do and I know that, ” said Luna. “I feel like if your friend comes out to you or like any person comes out to you, you should say thank you for doing that, for having the trust in me,” she added. 

Photo Credit: Alex Fikes

Alex Fikes, a senior at Agua Fria High School, identifies as a trans man, formerly a female who now has transitioned to a male, and a solid pansexual, a person not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender or gender identity. He feels that is iffy sometimes but for the most part, he would say that he feels safe saying that he is a part of the LGBTQ+ community at Agua Fria High School.  

He personally hasn’t experienced discrimination or bullying but he has seen it happen. Fikes does think that people make assumptions about him once they learn that he is a part of the LGBTQ+ community. He believes that people have a tendency to assume that when you say that you are a part of the LGBT community that you’re very flamboyant or that that’s the only thing you like to, or know how to talk about. 

Being in the LGBTQ+ community doesn’t mean that’s your only interest and it doesn’t mean that’s the only thing you think about 24/7. 

“Because I have a tone of interest but when describing me most people say, ‘Oh he’s in GSA,’ or ‘That one Alex in GSA,’”  said Fikes, referring to the Gay Straight Alliance club on campus. “I have other things I like to do, I have other interests and other things I generally do on campus, but most people just associate me with GSA because of that reason.”

He does think that there are a few situations where there are teachers who treat him differently because he is a part of the LGBTQ+ community by giving him a hard time when he will tell them his preferred name versus his deadname, which is the name that a transgender person was given at birth and no longer uses upon transitioning, or they will sometimes just flat out refuse to call him that. It can be a lot harder for him to feel comfortable telling people that. 

Feeling comfortable and equal in getting your education is a right that everyone should be offered. Fikes thinks there are some specific teachers that are trying to make things better and to help improve the acceptance of LGBTQ+ situations and students and community alike on campus. But he does think teachers could be doing more.

Although, he does know for a fact that there is one that is definitely fighting pretty hard for it: Mr. Nightingale, one of Agua Fria’s science teachers and sponsor for the GSA club on campus. 

What can people do to make Agua Fria a more comfortable and safe space for LGBTQ+ individuals? According to Fikes, they can start by making gender-inclusive bathrooms or gender-neutral bathrooms. That would definitely help a lot with different students, like Fikes, who don’t necessarily feel comfortable using either bathroom. 

Agua Fria could really generally enforce their no-bullying policy because Fikes knows that there are people on campus that do get bullied for that and for being LGBTQ+. He also had had personal experience with getting bullied in his sophomore year and all they did was take him to see the school’s therapist. 

“Right now it’s not as much of an issue simply because we’re not on campus but it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been an issue,” said Fikes, who’s attended AFHS for three years. 

Fikes also recommends making GSA more known as the other clubs, because Agua Fria tends to give more outspokenness to sports and different clubs. “Like the Student Council, which is just a club, or like to Be a Leader,” he said. “When there are generally, clubs on campus that students might actually rather be in or feel safe in being part of. Those aren’t the only clubs on campus and this isn’t just about GSA in that sense.” 

Photo Credit: Image by Tim Evanson from Wikimedia Commons

Fikes wants people to know that when you join the LGBTQ+ community, it has its own problems but there’s so much acceptance and so much love there.  There’s also so much love in GSA and that there’s just so much appreciation and support and that you can’t always find everywhere else. 

He feels like that’s a huge part of why he is so passionate about it because of how he’s seen GSA change since when he first joined. He didn’t think he ever felt more excited about something every week.

“It was definitely one of those things that kept me going during those hard times being able to go to my meetings on Thursdays,”  Fikes said. “And I feel like there would be a lot more happy LGBT students on campus versus being bullied if they had even known that GSA was a thing.” 

Fortunately, almost everyone in these interviews has said they feel safe saying that they are part of the LGBTQ+ community at Agua Fria. But we still need to do better as a community, because while being LGBTQ+ is more acceptable, there are still a lot of people who face the backlash of coming out. 

Feeling safe in getting your education isn’t just a necessity, it’s a human right and not all people understand or even acknowledge that it’s still an issue.