Meet Katie Paniagua, Assistant Director of HR at LSSNY and a member of the #LGBTQ community.
She is a self-described bisexual person of color.
Though she realized she was attracted to boys and girls as early as second grade, she didn’t come out to her family until she was 14 years old. “It was not the greatest experience because I was abused for it,” she says. “It was dismissed as just a phase.” Her family told her it was wrong to feel that way, causing an emotional battle within herself. Her younger siblings were more understanding and accepting of who she was.
At her all-girls high school, she confided in a few of her friends. “They violated that,” she says. “One of my friends basically told everyone we knew, and I wasn’t ready to come out to everyone.” Given how people are prone to gossip, girls she hadn’t spoken with for a long time started asking her questions about her sexuality.
The early to mid-2000s was a different time. Most people didn’t have an understanding of what coming out feels like, Katie says. “There wasn’t a safe space before — as opposed to today when people would applaud you for coming out.”
Since she doesn’t have that many friends who are gay or identify as part of the community, it wasn’t until a few years ago that Katie joined a pride march. She joined up with The Equality Charter High School in the Bronx, which caters to children of LGTBQ, offering mental health services to the community. “It was nice to be a part of that experience,” she says.
Katie would like to bring more awareness of LGBTQ issues to LSSNY, whether through asking people to share stories, read relevant books, or march together.
In terms of the greater population, she says, “What I want people to know more of — and I’m still learning myself, so I’m not going to say I know more than the average person — is to just be understanding of why we should be more represented, to understand that we also go through struggles about being open, that we are fighting for equality rights and marriage laws. If people need to hide themselves, then we are not really promoting equality, getting to know our peers and the struggles they go through. This leads to people feeling they are alone in the struggles they face.”