One of the reasons many of us struggled to come out is because we didn’t, at the time, know anybody else who was LGBTI.
The importance of role models in helping others to accept themselves cannot be understated. Nowadays, there are many more famous LGBTI people and celebrities than previous decades. Nevertheless, kids can still grow up misbelieving they’re the only gay in the village or the only trans person at school.
This point was brought home to Chicago-based Che-Che Turrubiartez.
Turrubiartez recounted his story in the latest video in the I’m From Driftwood video archive of LGBT voices.
Back in 2009, he was attending a local Chicago High School.
‘I used to be part of this youth group at the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance.
‘Every single year at the Day of Silence, we had an “ask” and our “ask” was to CPS, which was Chicago Public Schools, to change their policies about discrimination against LGBT people, gender nonconforming and trans folk to be inclusive.
‘And so they did. And in order to raise awareness for that, I decided to run for homecoming queen at my school.’
Turrubiartez says that he encountered a wide range of responses when news spread that he was running for the position. Some of his peers congratulated his stance, while others abused him.
One response stood out. A fellow student approached him and said, ‘“You know, I think that what you’re doing is really great. I identify as trans and sometimes I don’t feel comfortable. So I think it takes a lot of courage to do what you’re doing.”
‘That made me feel amazing, that made me feel great because that was the point.’
‘Che-Che, why are you doing this?’
Despite this, Turrubiartez didn’t think standing would result to him being nominated. He was shocked when the school was informed of the top three nominations and he’d made the cut.
‘I remember being called into the principal’s office and talking to the principal. She’s like, “Che-Che, why are you doing this?”
‘And I told her, I explained to her, I was like, “There’s this new policy. There’s people here, you have students here who are trans and they don’t feel safe, so I want to raise awareness.
‘And she was like, “Okay.” And then she’s like, “You can go.”
‘And I’m like, “What? Is everything fine?”
‘And she said, “Yes, everything’s fine. Just know that I’m taking a lot of shit for this.” It was not more of like I’m shocked because she swore at me and I’m so offended. It was more because “I’m shocked that you swore but you’re agreeing with me and you’re willing to take this shit and let me do this.” You know? So that was awesome.’
‘People just start chanting my name’
On the day of the dance, Turrubiartez turned up at the dance, fully expecting to come third in the Homecoming Queen election.
‘And the principal comes up on stage. They announce third place, it’s not me. I’m thinking, okay, cool second place, that’s awesome. They announce second place and it’s not me. At which point, I’m just like, holy shit, what?
‘Then the principal’s like, “And this year, your homecoming queen is…”
‘And then people just start chanting my name. And I’m just like, oh my god, shivers are going through my spine, my skin and I feel so excited. I’m like, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do.”
As Turrubiartez approached the stage he noted the audience were divided through cheers and a few catcalls. However, when the crown was placed on his head, the whole room roared its approval.
‘And I remember being so mesmerized by that because I was thinking just a few seconds, I was scared. I was scared that I was gonna get beat up. I was scared that someone was going grab me and just punching at me or what happens afterwards.
‘But as soon as I saw all those people being happy for me – oh my god, it was the most insane feeling.
‘That night, I had about more than 10, 15 people come out to me. I didn’t know there was that many queer people at the school.
‘So when students, you know, younger, freshman, sophomore, juniors and even seniors were telling me, “Hey, I’m also queer. And I think that what you’re doing is great.” That – that made me cry.
‘Who’s going to stand up for you if there’s no one else to stand up for anyone’
‘The reason why I ran for homecoming queen earlier that year was to create visibility and to have people be comfortable being who they are.
‘At the end of the day, if you don’t stand up for people, I feel like that leads to forms of oppression, different forms of oppression.
‘And in the end, who’s going to stand up for you if there’s no one else to stand up for anyone.’
‘Everyone should be a role model’
Turrubiartez now works at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago as an Office Administrator.
‘I believe everyone should be a role model,’ he told GSN. ‘If it wasn’t for other queer people before me who were visible in media and the community around me I would probably not be as engaged as I am today.’
He still believes passionately in speaking out and encouraging others, and is currently one of the spokespeople for the CDC’s Haciéndolo HIV testing campaign. Watch below:
‘You can’t be what you can’t see,’ says Claire Harvey, Chief Executive of UK-based charity Diversity Role Models.
‘Being open allows people to see beyond a stereotype and connect with a person, we know at DRM the power that creates. For young LGBT+ people, a safe environment and positive role models can literally save lives.’