Zoey Luna began discovering herself in middle school.
The transgender Latina was assigned male at birth, but realized during her adolescence that wasn’t her identity. She was bullied relentlessly, and later sexually assaulted, but emerged through those struggles as a leader for the transgender movement.
She’s since been featured in the documentaries “15: A Quinceanera Story,” and “Raising Zoey.”
Luna attributes her success to support from her mother and surrounding herself with other members of the LGBTQ community.
“I was finally Zoey and my life was so much better,” Luna told a crowd of about 70 people Saturday who gathered at Cal State Bakersfield for the Third Annual LGBTQ Youth Summit.
The summit offered middle school- and high school- aged LGBTQ youth a space where they could be themselves without judgement, make new friends, and learn about the resources that are in the community to support them.
“The goal of the event is to bring the LGBTQ community of Kern County together and to ensure young people who identify as being part of the community do not feel isolated,” said Gloria Garcia, lead organizer of the event and LGBT Community Worker at California Rural Legal Assistance.
To Julian Melendez, a senior at Foothill High School, the summit provided an opportunity for youth to connect to their culture.
“It gives a lot of youth a lot of information that they didn’t receive in school, and this way [at the summit] we interact with our own gay culture, we are more in-tune,” Melendez said.
Hosting such an event in Bakersfield, a traditionally conservative county, is critically important, Melendez said.
“In Bakersfield, there isn’t very much pride,” Melendez said.
More than 70 youth and parents attended the summit at Cal State Bakersfield, which included a show put on by local drag queen performers, and workshops on a range of LGBTQ issues.
Workshops were hosted separately into tracts for middle school and high school students, and adults. Each workshop presented information about suicide suicide prevention strategies, LGBTQ students’ rights in school, high school youth sharing their experiences of being LGBTQ with middle school students and parents, and the concept of consent.
Some students as young as 12 praised the summit, saying it allowed them to socialize with other kids who have shared experiences.
Andrew Alvarez, a 16 year old student from West High School said that his favorite part of the summit was the suicide prevention workshop provided by Ellen Eggert from Kern County Mental Health.
“Just because we have our sexuality, or label attached to ourselves, it doesn’t mean we should isolate ourselves just because we are different,” Alvarez said, reflecting on what he learned in the workshop.”
This article originally ran in South Kern Sol. Click here to read it there.