By Greg Hernandez
“I am a gender non-conforming gay person,” announced Alex from center stage. “I believe that is how I was born.”
Alex received massive cheers from the crowd of more than 1,500 Hollywood High School students during an assembly planned by the student LGBT Club, which is supported by the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Community Action Network (CAN).
As part of the Center’s LifeWorks youth development and leadership program, CAN collaborates with Gay-Straight Alliances and LGBTQ clubs at local high schools and middle schools. This was the third year CAN helped with the Hollywood High assembly.
CAN Program Supervisor Mike Freeman described the reaction Alex received from their classmates at Hollywood High as “remarkable.”
“There were applause and cheers which is very different from a lot of things that we see in other parts of our community,” Freeman said after the assembly. “I think it was so amazing the way that the students embraced Alex.”
Alex went on to detail how they had been repeatedly bullied when they were younger.
“If you do see someone getting bullied, please say something,” Alex said. “If you are getting bullied, please report it or say something because I know what it feels like when you’re treated really badly and you just feel like you’re worth nothing.”
The assembly also included a silent tribute to the 22 transgender people who have been murdered in 2018, information about the recent decriminalization of homosexuality in India, and details of the battle an LGBT Kenyan filmmaker faced this year to have her film screened in her own country.
“We’re lucky to have movies like Love, Simon, Disobedience, and Bohemian Rhapsody so that we get to see these LGBT stories. But other places don’t,” one of the female club members told the crowd, her voice breaking with emotion. “They don’t have the privilege of that. And these are stories that need to be told.”
Social Sciences teacher Michael Bitran, who is the faculty sponsor of Hollywood High School’s LGBT Club, was impressed by the student leaders who organized the assembly.
“Every single kid that went out there and spoke got such an extremely positive response,” Bitran said. “It just makes me so happy to see that the work that they put in pays off. By and large, the culture of this school is a positive one.”
The CAN program supports several schools weekly by providing resources and tools to aid the students so that their clubs can be sustaining.
“We believe in the leadership of the students in the club so we really allow them to take the leading role and we fill in any gaps,” Freeman explained. “Every school climate is very different. I think it starts at the top. If the faculty and staff and administration are open and accepting and convey that, it trickles down. Students follow that.”