Angel didn’t want to go to the Boys & Girls Club. But once he did, he didn’t want to leave. Read his story about finding safety, affirmation and a place to belong at the last place he expected.
Growing up, I didn’t understand what the blue building across the street did – then I saw kids running inside and learned it was a Boys & Girls Club.
My mom worked long hours and would say, “One day you’ll go there!” but I was determined not to go. I was too scared to go to the Club. I didn’t need more places to get bullied. I was always the tall, giant kid. The feminine boy who was always getting picked on.
My mom was true to her word. Even though the Club was literally across the street, one day we got in the car, she drove around the neighborhood, looped us back, parked us right in front of that blue building and said we were heading inside. “Oh no, I do not want to be here,” was my first thought.
But to my surprise, that summer, the place I’d been avoiding became my second home.
I was six years old and had found a place where I could feel safe and be myself. I made friends on my very first day. In fact, by the time the school year started, I didn’t want to leave.
While I did go back to school that fall, I didn’t ever leave the Boys & Girls Clubs of West San Gabriel Valley & Eastside. I was there after school and during the summer from age six to 18. I grew up there.
And now, in my 20s, I work at the Club helping kids in my community find a place where they, too, can belong.
Unfortunately, for far too many kids, a lot of bullying can happen at school. It restarted that school year when I returned.
After school I would go to my Club and the staff would ask, “Hey, what's wrong? What's going on?”
When I told them I was getting bullied, my Club staff went out of their way to report my bullying experiences to my school. They worked with my school to help shut down those negative experiences for me. At that time, it really struck me: “Wow, they really care about me here. I am one of their kids.”
It was the first time I really felt what it was like to have a community that claims you and wants the best for you. It made me want to return tomorrow and the next day to my Boys & Girls Club.
For most of my childhood, I had the thought in the back of my mind that I was gay. But I always pushed that down, because I’m from a Latino household where I was worried this news wouldn’t be accepted. We have a word for the kind of masculinity expected of a man – machismo.
My Club creates an environment where everyone is welcome. The people who work here are very open that kids here can just be themselves. By age 12, I started sharing that I was gay, and the Club staff made me feel safe, supported and welcome. And for the first time, it was like, “OK, it’s OK. I can be myself now."
At age 16, I felt it was time to tell my family. For LGBTQ+ kids, one of our biggest fears is that our families will disown us. That they won’t love us, speak to us or even let us be part of the family anymore. It makes coming out to your family an incredibly scary, big thing.
My parents are divorced, so I had to come out twice – days I’ll never forget, my anxiety was so high. My mom was so glad I told her, crying while she said, “I have known the whole time. I was just waiting for you to find the right moment to come and tell me.”
After I told my dad, he didn’t talk to me for four months, which was so hard. But then, he reached out. “I want you to know I'm OK with it,” he said. “No matter what you do, what you wear or anything like that. You're my son, no matter what.”
I cried that day. It was done. It was an OK coming out story – not the awful kind you might see on TV or hear from friends. I like to tell my coming out story because I hope it gives people at the beginning of their journey some hope.
And I am so thankful my Club made me know no matter what happened, I always would have a place where I was loved and accepted. But it turns out, I had a whole lot more of that than I realized.
I never really saw LGBTQ+ awareness around our community growing up. Pride Month was not something that we talked about.
But in 2021, an idea began with one of my former high school teachers, Tammy Scorcia. She encouraged me to bring in the Boys & Girls Club and she would bring in the school and the city. Together, we created the first Pride Month event in San Gabriel Valley – an amazing Pride March and celebration. It started at the high school, wound through our community and ended at the park in front of our Boys & Girls Club.
That first year, they asked me to lead the Pride march. To literally start it off.
My family gave me a pair of rainbow Converse sneakers to wear. I raised the rainbow flag, just like the one that’s flown in front of our Club for years now. It was the best day.
This year will be our third annual Pride march, and I’m so excited for our community and our Club to lead this celebration – for kids like I was to see that the blue building in the neighborhood welcomes everyone.
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