In recent years, high schools have become a battleground for transgender issues, but one trans teen’s inspiring story should give advocates reason to hope.
Last Wednesday, 18-year-old Anry Fuentes made national news when she scored a spot on the cheerleading team at her local high school in Denair, California, after failing to make the cut the previous year. This makes her the first transgender cheerleader in the county’s history—and one of just a handful across the country.
But Fuentes said that she wasn’t interested in making history. After not making it the year before, she was just trying to persevere for herself.
“I was wanting to get on that team [so] I’m going to get on that team,” she told The Daily Beast. “It’s going to be like that all my life, I’m going to keep fighting for the things I like.”
According to Fuentes, who came out to students at the end of her Junior year, she didn’t try out with the intention of wearing the girls’ uniform. She just wanted to cheer.
And Fuentes’ school has stood by her. Fellow students helped Fuentes raise the $600 for a cheerleading uniform. School administrators claim—other than that little bit of help funding the uni—that Fuentes is being treated no differently than any other student.
“We’ve dealt with Anry like we’ve dealt with all students: We welcome them all, we support all the kids on their journey through life,” said Aaron Rosander, the school district superintendent.
Anry has found particularly vocal support from female students, particularly her fellow cheerleaders. When Fuentes came out to them, she mostly remembers feeling love.
“One of them interrupted me, saying ‘I love you,’” she said. “They were really supportive, and they love me for who I am.”
Fuentes isn’t the only trans cheerleader to find acceptance at her high school. In September, OutSports reported that Landon Patterson had been cheerleading on her school’s team since her freshman year. A 17-year-old student at Oak Park High School in Kansas City, Mo., Patterson was crowned homecoming queen in September.
According to Patterson, her classmates and fellow squad members “didn’t care.” It was more a matter of logistics.
“I was worried about whether or not I could cheer in the girls’ uniform,” Patterson told OutSports. “There really wasn’t any issue with me wearing the girls’ uniform; it was more about me using the bathroom and locker room. It took a lot longer to figure out.”
Fuentes said that at Denair, she started out using single-occupancy bathrooms in the staff lounge or the library—at the school’s request—but is slowly transitioning to the girls’ bathroom. She said she’s learned to be patient and work with administrators and students on the issue.
“People are scared of what they don’t know,” she said. “When they know what it’s about, they’ll learn to understand it.”
The bathroom question has proven contentious at many high schools, as other transgender students have fought school policy over bathrooms and changing areas. Yesterday, for example, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson suggested that transgender people should have their own bathrooms because “it is not fair for them to make everybody else uncomfortable. It’s one of the things that I don’t particularly like about the [LGBT] movement.”
In September, students and parents at Hillsboro High School in Missouri protested after 17-year-old Lila Perry, who came out as trans this school year, began using the girls’ locker room after gym class.
As CNN reported, a petition to the school board asked the school to stop enabling “confused teenagers who want to be something they are not sexually.” The school offered to allow Perry to use a single-occupancy bathroom, but she declined.
“I am a girl,” Perry said. “I am not going to be pushed away to another bathroom.”
Perry was forced to drop gym because of threats to her safety, but she isn’t the only high school student who has faced discrimination because of their gender identity. Kansas’ local CBS affiliate reported in June that a transgender student at Columbus High School was barred from using both the men’s and women’s bathrooms. Instead Damien Greenlee is forced to use the outdated bathroom in a storage unit. The ceiling leaks and the door doesn’t lock.
Many school districts lack clear policy on how to deal with transgender students—simply because they are new to the issue. As CNN notes, stories like those of Caitlyn Jenner might bring trans stories into Americans’ homes, but many—like the residents of Hillsboro and Columbus—have never met a transgender person before. According to 2015 statistics from GLAAD, just 18 percent of respondents know someone like Lila Perry or Damien Greenlee in real life.
While Anry argued that things are getting better for trans people like herself, she explained that she’s still struggling with acceptance at home. Although previous media reports alleged that Fuentes’ mother kicked her out, she clarified that she moved out due to tensions around her gender identity.
But Fuentes is hopeful about their relationship.
“I want people to see that I went through a rough time, but she’s coming along now,” she said. “It takes a long time.”
Her message to other transgender and queer kids? Whether or not your family or your community embraces you, what matters most is accepting yourself.
“I think anyone who is struggling with being uncomfortable in their skin... it’s OK,” Fuentes said. ”You’ll always have yourself. You’re living to make yourself happy.”
But while coming out has had its share of challenges, Fuentes told Sacramento’s FTXL she has no regrets about living honestly.
“If I did regret it, then I wouldn’t be this happy,” Fuentes said. “It's much harder to hide than to come out as yourself.”