WATSONVILLE — Just before he burst through a rainbow-colored door and ran through a gauntlet of cheerleaders and cheering friends in Pajaro Valley High School’s quad, Fernie Viveros proclaimed himself to be “hella gay.”
Viveros, 16, said he hoped his public announcement would encourage his peers to do the same.
“I feel like I need to be a voice for the kids who don’t have one,” he said.
The act of literally “coming out” through the door was a symbolic version of an act that terrifies many people in the LGBT community: telling one’s friends and family about their sexual orientation.
The door, and balloon-covered archway, was the centerpiece of the school’s version of National Coming Out Day.
The trouble is that being a part of the LGBT community still carries a stigma that many people are reluctant to embrace.
Teacher Erica Murphy, who serves as advisor for the PVHS Gay/Straight Alliance, said the event, now in its seventh year, is a way to create a supportive environment for those students.
“It’s super important for them to know that they don’t have to be afraid,” she said.
Ron Indra, who directs the Safe Schools Project of Santa Cruz County, said the event — along with LGBT-friendly additions such as gender-neutral bathrooms and supportive teachers and administrators at the school — helps students both socially and academically.
He explained that students can better focus on their work when they don’t have to worry about being bullied between classes.
“It’s all these things that create a safe space for students,” he said.
Jayden Zamudio, 15, described the event as “a day when everyone doesn’t have to hide.”
“It’s important that everyone gets to be who they are,” he said.
Emi Ruiz, 15, came out as bisexual and agender, a term used in the LGBT community meaning without gender.
Coming out at school, Emi said, allows everyone to show their “true colors.”
“I am proud of who I am,” Emi said. “I accept myself and don’t care what people think.”