By Alicia Canales
Q High, a LGBTQ-friendly high school, will open on Tuesday for their first full year of classes. One n Ten, a LGBTQ youth program in Phoenix, will sponsor the online high school.
Johnny Hernandez cut class to the point that her former school told her not to come back. While meeting with another high school, the 16-year-old was told she had to change her clothing in order to register.
Her clothes met the dress code requirement — the school’s issue was that Hernandez is a male and wears women’s clothing.
“In my head I feel like I’m a girl,” Hernandez said. “I’m just not in the right body.”
At the same meeting, Hernandez heard about Q High, a high school that opened this year near Third Street in midtown Phoenix. The new high school is for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning students along with straight allied youth.
Q High is a part of One n Ten, a nonprofit organization that focuses on assisting LGBTQ youth ages 14-24. With three satellite locations in the Valley and a youth center in Phoenix, One n Ten holds weekly discussion groups and offers programs to help youths with “self‐expression, self‐acceptance, leadership development and healthy life choices,” according to the official website.
“We noticed through our database that a high population of our youth had either dropped out, are home schooled or work from home on another online high-school program,” One n Ten program manager Stacey Jay Cavaliere said in an email. “We knew there was a need for this so we went forward with plans to address that need.”
Q High appealed to Hernandez because “coping with the judgment” has been the hardest part for her.
At five years old, Hernandez said she began having crushes on boys. Growing up, she said people physically fought her because they didn’t like that she was gay. Three years ago, she came out to her family as transgender. The majority of her family doesn’t like who she is, she said. Hernandez also feels she is “double-profiled” because of her Mexican background.
“If people don’t like Mexicans, they aren’t going to like me, and if they don’t like gays, they aren’t going to like me,” Hernandez said. “I don’t care what the world thinks of me. I am who I am and I’m not going to change for anybody.”
Hernandez’s cousin, Monica Chavez, said several times that they have been out walking and overheard people nearby discuss her Hernandez’s transgender appearance.
“They’d be confused and ask if he was a girl or a boy or they’d laugh at the way he dressed. It made me mad,” Chavez said. “I didn’t stay quiet; they were asking if he was a boy or a girl so I answered their question. They shouldn’t be laughing about it or asking other people as if they know him.”
Chavez, 16, will also be joining Hernandez Tuesday for the first day of school at 3660 N. Third St. The day will also mark the first full school year of Q High. Chavez’s reasons differ from her cousin’s.
Four years ago, Chavez was diagnosed with limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, meaning her leg muscles deteriorate as she grows older. She began using a wheelchair and wanted to attend a school with a smaller population.
“Ever since I’ve been in my wheelchair, I’ve been scared of what people think or if they’ll stare, and it bothers me if they stare,” Chavez said. “I just get nervous. I’m looking forward to (starting Q High) but at the same time I’m not.”
Donald Smith, site supervisor of Q High, said the goal is to “create a safe, inclusive environment where our LGBT youth and straight allies have a safe place to go and get their education.”
“My main goal is to make them feel like a teenager, like a youth,” Smith said. “It’s just one part of your identity; it’s not who you are, it’s not what defines you.”
Q High is a public charter school through the Arizona Virtual Academy and funded by the Arizona Department of Education. All classes are online and academic requirements are determined by the department.
Smith, 28, said Arizona Virtual Academy tutors will be available if students need help with any academic struggles. Counselors will also be available at the youth center for students who are looking for additional support.
Attendance will be taken in order to enforce that the 17 students attend class Tuesdays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to meet the weekly minimum requirement of 25 hours online.
Smith plans to work with downtown facilities, like the YMCA, to incorporate field trips for physical activities or performing arts. He also wants the students to create a school mascot.
“My whole vision is to create an environment where they feel like they are in their own school community and not just coming to sit in front of a computer for seven hours on end,” Smith said.
Hernandez and Chavez have talked with Smith and said they are excited to meet him on the first day of class.
“I just want to be around more people I can relate to and be in a more comfortable environment for me,” Hernandez said. “I’m very excited for the extra support and extra help.”