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A UofGH alum fostering pride in LGBTQ+ teens
For Cal Campos, high-school prom was the culmination of a difficult four years.
Just prior to starting high-school in Woodbridge, the recently graduated University of Guelph-Humber Media Studies alum came out about their sexuality to their parents. It wasn’t an easy decision, but Campos had reached a point where keeping the secret was becoming harmful to their mental health.
During Grade 9, Campos was forced out of the closet at school, and the years that followed were often painful.
“High school was really, really difficult,” Campos recalled. “Coming to terms with myself was hard, and there was a lot of bullying. But at the same time, it resulted in tremendous self-growth and an understanding of who I needed to be afterwards.
“I knew I wanted to be an advocate for LGBTQ+ people.”
Campos, who identifies as transmasculine non-binary, felt a moment of pride and relief when they attended prom and wore a tuxedo with the support of friends.
Now, Campos wants to help other young LGBTQ+ people who are struggling with their identity; they have offered to shoot pay-what-you-can prom photos for LGBTQ+ teens.
“Because of how hard it was for me growing up and coming out, I wanted to pay it forward and create a space that I needed when I was younger,” Campos said.
Finding a support system
When Campos first arrived at UofGH, they were relieved to find a totally different environment than they had experienced in high school. In fact, it was the support of the friends made here that Campos – who had identified as lesbian in high-school – realized they were trans.
“Coming to UofGH was really great,” said Campos, who worked in multiple roles on campus. “I came out as trans here, and the entire community of Guelph-Humber and Humber have been incredible with my transition. Really, they have been really great foundation blocks for my coming out and being trans.
“The whole place was so inclusive. I got so much support here.”
One role on campus meant a lot to Campos: three years spent as a Student Transition and Resource Team (START) Leader. During that time, START Leaders began including their pronouns on their nametags in order to, as Campos puts it, “open the conversation on gender identities and normalizing the idea of not assuming someone’s gender just because they might look a certain way.”
It worked, and Campos was happy to have meaningful conversations about gender and sexuality with other students.
“That was a really big thing,” Campos said. “I’ve had a few people come up to me during my START experience and say: ‘I notice you have pronouns on your tag, can you talk to me about that?’
“I’ve even met a couple trans people who have come out to me personally even though they haven’t come out yet, and it’s because I was able to represent the trans community in START. It was really great in that regard.”
Spreading their message
Campos recently shared their story with a short video documentary and an interview on CBC Metro Morning with Matt Galloway, and also as part of their Humber College web series Figuring it Out. Campos has also documented their transition on Instagram.
Ultimately, those efforts – as well as the offer to help LGBTQ+ teens celebrate their prom nights – are all motivated by Campos’s desire to use their experience to help inspire others who are being bullied or struggling to accept and take pride in their identities.
“I want to create spaces where people can be themselves and celebrate who they are if they’re going through something similar to what I went through,” Campos said.
“I’m just glad I can be here if someone needs it.”