On the Road to Success
Latino activist Miguel Ayala talks about his experiences in high school and as a college freshman, and how he has been an advocate for the QV and Latino communities.
by Miguel Angel Ayala
It was in high school that I first admitted to myself I was not straight. Even though it started as the usual, "I think I'm bi," to my friend during lunch one day my freshman year, this realization helped change the way I would experience the rest of my life. Acknowledging my sexuality to anyone was a big deal, because at that point, I didn't even want to admit it to myself. After I came out to a few other close friends, the gossip that followed forced me completely out of the closet by my sophomore year. Even before I was out, however, I was already beating the path towards being the "not-your-usual" activist. By this time, I had already started a new class, "Asian/Latino Literature," at my high school and I had been involved in Chicago's Local School Council (LSC).
I continued to be very involved in school, as I joined different committees and organizations. I participated in the National Youth Convention in Chicago, which coincided with the Democratic National Convention that year. The convention allowed youth to voice their opinions and create a document that would express their sentiments, as one group, for key politicians to listen to and act upon. My involvement with the convention brought me into the political thinking that motivated my later actions. I met interesting people, had fun, and felt like I had made a difference.
As I entered my junior year, I knew things would not be the same. Two major things occurred. First of all, I helped start the first club for QV, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) students in a Chicago High School. I also ran for the Student Representative position at Whitney Young High School. Though both things happened simultaneously, I did not tell the administration about my involvement with the planning of the Pride Club in order to avoid any possible problems with my campaign for LSC Student Rep.
The inception of the Pride Club was no easy task. Sponsors and members met with the administration and were given a lengthy application process. By contrast, the "X-Files Fan Club" was able to start in a mere two days. In addition, our meeting signs were not always up the day after they were posted, particularly around Parent Report Card Pick-Up day.
After I was successfully elected to the LSC, I felt it was safe to expose my involvement with the Pride Club planning. On June 5, 1996, the Pride Club was given club status, and became an active part of the Chicago Public Schools, as well as the QV community. Immediately after receiving word that we were an official club, we held elections and I was elected President for the following school year.
Senior Year was fast approaching, and little did I know that my activism would be taking on such a path. That summer, I created a new organization called Student Pride USA. This organization's purpose was to create a network for all the QV clubs in high schools, and provide support and resources for people wanting to start one. As that began to take steam, I began attending monthly student leadership meetings sponsored by the Chicago Public Schools.
Homecoming was coming, and I had no date. I wanted to take a guy, but I was single, and besides, I wanted to save that for Prom. So who better to take than Ms. Erika Kaine! My dear friend Eric had done drag in the past, but it had been a while since he slung on some stiletto heels and got his hair weaved, looking like Brooke Shields. Since school rules stated our dates had to be high school students, for which "Ms. Kaine" was not, she and I headed over to an arcade, took a few quick snapshots, and then went to the Student Pride office, where we used a computer and a laminator to create a high school ID.
When the big night arrived, Erika wore a red China doll dress and looked very tall with her hair and heels. As soon as we got out of my car, we started getting stares. We entered the building without a fuss, and found our way to the dance floor. Many of the teachers were really cool as they conversed with Erika about her shoes, and took pictures of us. My friends, of course, kept her company as I MCd the evening, announcing the Homecoming Court for that year. The night went on without a worry, or so I thought.
Monday morning, I was called to the principal's office. I was told that my mother was on her way, and that we would be having a conference. Nobody would tell me what the meeting was about. My mother arrived with my sister. I borrowed a friend's tape recorder, and went into the meeting. My principal was upset that I had taken a "man dressed in women's clothing" to the homecoming. He felt that a student in my role model position should be setting an example. Arguments ensued and people cried (me and my mom), but there were no consequences for it after I successfully explained that I was setting an example because I was leading an honest life, and not trying to hide anything.
In December, the elections for the Student Board Member on the Chicago Public School's Board of Trustees came up, and somehow. I ended up running for office again. After a very strong campaign, I became the first Latino in Chicago-and the first openly QV person nationwide-to be elected and hold such a position.
In February, my Senior Winter Ball was about to take place, and I, once again, was going to use this as a social exposure event. This time I decided that I didn't need a date because I would attend in drag! With a maroon velvet babydoll dress, a black feather boa, and a maroon wig, I flung on some snappy black heels and made my entrance to the Ball coming down the escalator in a pose. That night, I socialized, chilled and partied like any other night. It was cool having supportive friends around. This night went by without even a smirk from the administration.
After the ball, I again found myself the center of media attention. I was surprised at how widely the news of my election had traveled. I was being asked to speak at conferences and accept awards across the country. I was on the Leeza show, and I was interviewed by station after station-including some Latino media.
Prom was quickly approaching, and there I was, finally with a boyfriend who I had met a month earlier at the QV Prom. We had our outfits picked out and everything seemed to be going fine, but then, at the last Senior Class assembly of the year, the school announced that same-sex couples would not be allowed at the prom. Knowing the law and my rights, I argued with the principal. Then, without a second thought, I called the Law Department at the Board of Education, who then called and reprimanded my principal. He was forced to make a retraction over the PA system and to issue a written statement saying that anyone could take anyone to the prom. The memorable evening came, and it was exactly what I hoped it would be.
Soon after, graduation came, and I left behind my legacy at my high school. Though I had changed the way things were at that school, I knew my activism would not stop there, and the media knew it as well.
That summer, I was named by The Advocate magazine as one of the "Best and Brightest Under 30." I was also given the "Activism Award" by the Human Rights Campaign. Later in the year, I was named to the "OUT 100" by Out Magazine.
I began my college career at DePaul University where I pledged a fraternity-a Latino-orientated brotherhood that accepted me for who I was. Prior to my involvement with them, I had thought that fraternities would be the least likely to accept QVs. Soon, however, I learned that this was not true for most of them, and that they accepted all their brothers for who they were. This was definitely a life-changing experience, and I could never explain the feeling that went along with being a part of such an organization.
Today, I sit in Washington, DC, completing an internship through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. I have been named a National Hispanic Scholarship Fund scholar. Having finished my first year of college, I am now moving on to even more exciting things. There is just so much out there that can be done. As long as people take advantage of opportunities and become more educated, we will all benefit.
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