By Randy Villegas
Residents of Kern County packed a theater room at Maya Cinemas on May 17 to watch “Raising Zoey,” a film that illustrated just how important family support is to transgender kids who are going through transition.
The Dolores Huerta Foundation, in partnership with Building Healthy Communities South Kern, and the California Endowment sponsored the event which also brought the star of the film Zoey Luna, her mother Ofelia, and the director of the film Dante Alencastre for a live panel discussion after the film concluded.
“Raising Zoey” is a heartwarming film about a family faced with the insurmountable challenges of a youth’s gender transition.
The film began with the birth of Zoey, who did not identify as a male and struggled to embrace her female characteristics with an unsupportive father.
As Zoey grew older, she was met with the love and support of her mother and her siblings. The support allowed Zoey to transition into who she felt that she truly was. Unfortunately for Zoey, she was also met with ignorance and intolerance from not only students, but even school administrators.
After facing discrimination from her school board, Zoey and her family took action to fight for trans-students’ rights in school.
Undeterred by the school board’s proposed solution to have Zoey “Transfer schools and start over” to avoid bullying, Zoey and her mother brought in the American Civil Liberties Union and fought for her right to self-identify in school.
Eventually winning her case, the film goes on to illustrate how Zoey thrived in an environment where she was loved and supported by her family as she transitioned. From beginning hormone treatment to buying female clothing for the first time, the film illustrates the challenges that arose throughout Zoey’s life.
From being awarded the outstanding Youth Leader Award at LA pride in 2013 to leading the Pride parade as Grand Marshall, Zoey inspires countless others to become an ally and advocate on behalf of the trans and LGBTQ community.
When the film concluded, the audience broke out in applause.
“I really enjoyed it, and I thought it was a great portrayal of a beautiful family coming together to support their transgender child,” said film screening attendee Emma Gallegos. “I think it was really educational for some of the challenges and struggles. It humanizes a family’s journey to help people understand how they can love and support each other.”
Other audience members found joy in seeing Zoey’s mother Ofelia’s unconditional love and support of her daughter. “My favorite part was when she (Ofelia) said, ‘Zoey is not special because she is trans. She is special because she is my child’…As a mother, that’s all I heard. If you are a mom, there is nothing more than pure love. You don’t see gender,” said attendee Linda Haggerty.
Before the Panel Q&A began, a moment of silence was observed for a transgender woman in Fresno who was murdered just hours before the film began. According to the Fresno Bee and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, there have been 10 transgender lives that have been lost in the US just this year.
Many audience members expressed their gratitude to Zoey and her family for sharing their story. One woman asked about what she could do if she was seeking resources to help with her child’s transition. Practicing her core commitment to community, Ofelia offered the woman her personal cell phone number to talk about what resources are available for trans children and non-conforming youth.
Although still in High School, Zoey has big plans for her future and wants to pursue acting and directing. She also wants to continue spreading awareness for LGBTQ issues and hopes to one day have her film in theaters nationwide and on Netflix.
When asked what the number one thing an ally could do to create a safer space for the trans community Zoey said, “Always be ready to listen and come with open arms. Don’t assume anything. It’s different for everyone.”
Zoey went on to explain how some people get surgery while others don’t, and respecting a person’s preferred pronouns is extremely important.
One audience member stated that she was concerned with our own school board and community not being LGBTQ friendly. “How do we fight that?” While Zoey and her mom talked about writing letters and contacting educational administrators, Dolores Huerta also talked about the importance of attending LCAP meetings to let officials know that we want a more inclusive community.
With a smile, Zoey added, “Just keep resisting…and tell your kids that you love them.”