Monday, July 07, 2014

School Board Member on Coming Out as Bisexual

by Harrie Farrow for BiNet USA

Bonilla was first elected to the board in 2011, at age 21. He said he ran for the position because, "I felt that our students at that time didn't have a voice on the school board, and as a recent graduate I felt I could provide that voice. I also felt that many of the issues facing the minority community were being ignored."

In regards to coming out to himself, Bonilla explained, “Once I was able to finally understand that I can't control what others would think, or how they would feel, I began to move forward.”

When he came out to his family, they were very supportive, and he said he "felt extremely relieved." However, he explained, since "The idea of being bisexual is one that many people don't fully understand... The difficult part was not only having to tell my family, but also, educate my family.” 

Bonilla feels that, “…we as a community need to do more to educate our communities as to what it means to be bisexual. They all know what it means to be Lesbian or Gay, but bisexuality to many is a new concept…many times I have been asked what it means to be bisexual. I am asked does that mean I have both a boyfriend and a girlfriend?... We even face questions from the LG Community. Some gays say ‘People say they are bisexual because they are afraid to say they are gay.’”

“It was a very though choice to make,” Bonilla explained, about deciding to come out publicly. He spoke of the reasons why he did, while recounting some of the reactions, “I heard from a number of people who said, ‘I don't have anything against people who are bisexual or even gay, but we all don't need to know about your private life.’ My response to them was simple. I didn't do this publicly for you. I didn't even do it publicly for myself. I did it because of the position that I am in as an elected official… I need to be honest, open, and upfront with the people I represent. Too many politicians today hide things… I also did it publicly for the members of the LGBT community who are judged because of their sexuality… who are bullied… I did it for the people like myself who were in the ‘closet’ and scared to be themselves. I wanted them all to know that…it is ok to be who you are regardless of what other may think and say. I wanted them to know that is better to live their lives as they want to, than having to hide behind a mask to please others. If by coming out publicly I can change one person's life or make it easier for one person, I… know that I did the right thing!” Bonilla also said that being out, would make it easier for him to “fight for true equality.”

After he came out, most people were supportive, he said, and there was far fewer negative reactions than he'd expected, “Yes, there has been that occasional person who makes a comment, but it has been very rare. Many feel that it is my private life and they just don't care.”

In 2013, Bonilla received a Community Service Award from the Pennsylvania Diversity Network for his role in bring same-sex medical benefits to members of the district, which he said benefits not only the staff, “but also the students and members our community who can point to our board and say ‘they get it, they understand, and they care.’" At that time, he said, someone came to a board meeting to complain, yet, no one did after he came out, “I would like to believe it's because we as a community and a society are moving forward.”

Bonilla said he's “received a lot of messages from students asking for advice, asking if I was nervous, asking how I told my parents.” Some told him that his story inspired them to come out too.

Asked what he'd say to someone struggling with a bisexual identity, Bonilla replied, “Know that you are not alone! There are those of us who are here and want to help you if you need it. Be who you are!” Bonilla feels that, “Had I had someone like myself to look up too growing up, I think I might have realized my sexuality sooner, and have become more comfortable with it.” He added, “Growing up... I faced many hurdles… from being sexually abused at a young age, to isolating myself from others, being bullied, to being judged based on my race.... but I have never wanted any pity. I have worked hard to get to where I am…. to rise against the barriers I faced. If I can do it then anyone can do it.”

Since coming out, Bonilla was asked to become a member of the Advisory Board for a new LGBT Community Center, and asked to contribute to an article in The Central Voice, which will look at how bisexuality is perceived in the LGBT Community and beyond.
Bonilla, who is also the school board representative on the Superintendent's Advisory Committee on Diversity, said about his future, “I am not sure if I will run for the Board again or higher office, or maybe leave politics and be a community activist.”