PALM SPRINGS — Youth of the Coachella Valley have been named Grand Marshals of the 2018 Pride Parade, a move that is drawing enthusiasm from both LGBTQ and straight students who plan to lead the parade. Their reasons for participating are varied, powerful, heartbreaking and moving.

Let them tell you in their own words.

Inspired by — and in support of — youth-led efforts that are igniting critical conversations for social change, Greater Palm Springs Pride kicks off the 2018 Pride season under the theme of Youth Power for Change.

Jaymee A. Martinez-Romero, a 16-year-old junior at Coachella Valley High School, said she identifies as bisexual but that doesn’t mean everyone needs to assume a label to be welcome in the LGBTQ+ community.

This year’s Gay Pride Parade is a red-letter day for her.

“I wouldn’t miss it,” Martinez-Romero said. “I will participate in this year’s Gay Pride Parade because as a youth, I know how much value my involvement and voice in the community has. This is an opportunity to start that now, as opposed to waiting for adulthood, a platform, or a position of authority. Too many people with the privilege of having opportunities like this use it to amplify their ignorance.”

Martinez-Romero came out at the end of her freshman year to her best friend and gradually to the rest of her close friends. Martinez-Romero said she has yet to come out to her family.

Youth Eager to Lead 2018 Gay Pride Parade

Jaymee A. Martinez-Romero

“It has been difficult to live openly as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, but mostly because we’re never truly out. There’s always going to be those who assume we’re straight, or cisgender,” Martinez-Romero told Uken Report. The difficulty comes with dealing with the fear of what happens when we contradict their

heteronormative concepts and challenge the stigma.

The threats, critiques, exclusion and stereotypes end when we show that the LGBTQ+ community is present in everything we relate to humanity, Martinez-Romero said.

“It’s extremely important to participate and stand up for the community, now more than ever, Martinez-Romero said. “Because by representing, practicing, and exemplifying love and acceptance to today’s youth, we will have a loving and accepting generation of people, which I think is way overdue for a society where technology is closer to human than the ignorant people out there.”

Alexia Ariana Barajas, 17, a senior at Coachella Valley High School, told Uken Report that as a “proud advocate of the LGBTQ+ community,” and treasurer of the Sexuality and Gender Acceptance (SAGA) Club Coachella Valley High School, she will participate in the parade.

“I, myself, have a homosexual brother who struggled for many years to come to terms with his sexual orientation,” Barajas said. “He felt alone and at times believed that who he loved and was attracted to was ‘wrong.’” Fortunately, with the help of SAGA/Gay-Straight Alliance, and a loving family, he is married to his partner. But to imagine the amount of pressure someone who doesn’t have a support unit or understanding family that understands their sexual orientation, made me realize I need to shed light on the support students from SAGA can receive not only from LGBTQ+ community members only, but from a heterosexual also.”

The message Barajas said she is trying to send is that not everyone in the Sexuality and Gender Acceptance club is a part of the LGBTQ+ community. It is open for everyone to join.

Youth Eager to Lead 2018 Gay Pride Parade

Alexia Ariana Barajas

“With the recent political controversy (revolving) around a majority conservative government, it is more important than ever to make a statement, loud and clear that the LGBTQ+ community will not silenced, and that at the end of the day, we are all human beings who deserve love and respect,” Barajas said. “I hope my participation brings clarity to others, in showing them that regardless of the fact that I am heterosexual, I also support the LGBTQ+ community.”

Empowered youth are at the forefront of building a national movement that can shape public policy for generations, said Ron deHarte of Palm Springs Pride. While we believe youth who are empowered will change the world, we are reminded that youth have historically been on the frontlines of social change, ranging from the Civil Rights Movement to Black Lives Matter. Recently, in response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, youth leadership emerged across the country and created national marches to demand change and end gun violence. They have crafted powerful position statements, organized school walkouts, lobbied politicians and engaged in conversations with elected-officials.

Youth Eager to Lead 2018 Gay Pride ParadeAdditionally, we create safe and affirming opportunities for youth to participate in activities related to Pride, deHarte said in a prepared statement. We actively collaborate with Safe Schools Desert Cities to connect with youth and provide funding, through the Pride Youth Fund, directly to Gay-Straight Alliance clubs and LGBT youth programs.

Greater Palm Springs Pride is committed to empowering youth in the Coachella Valley through mentorship, community engagement and by directly funding grassroots programs in support of youth development, team building and anti-bullying efforts.

The Palm Springs Pride Parade is scheduled for Nov. 4. The parade steps off at 10 a.m. at Palm Canyon Drive and Tachevah Drive and proceeds downtown on Palm Canyon Drive to the main entrance of the Pride Festival at Museum Way.