“Family. That’s everything in life, you just need to be happy with yourself and you can accomplish anything,” said Zoey Luna.
In the Spanish-speaking world, Quinceañera is a coming-of-age celebration on a girl’s 15th birthday. It’s a lavish party that includes a mariachi band, a feast and many guests—much like a wedding. Planning for a quinceañera can start as early as the birth of a daughter. Actual preparations may take anywhere from six months to a year and a half.
Dances have to be learned, decorations decided on, cakes made, and in some cases, elaborately detailed and flowing dresses made. Even a throne and presentation area are created for the new woman. Girlhood ends there.
For some transgender Latinas, turning 15 can be traumatic. It’s almost a time of reckoning, a moment when the family steps up or gives a painful thumbs down.
Zoey is one of the lucky ones.
She never identified as male, though she was assigned male at birth. And when her mother, Ofelia Barba, and her sister, Lety, realized Zoey was transgender they did not fight it, though both were afraid for her future. The family embraced her and fought with Zoey to raise hell for the recognition she deserved. She stared down discrimination and fought it at every turn and kept winning.
She helped, as a 13-year-old in 2013, fight for passage of California’s AB1266, a law authored by San Francisco’s Tom Ammiano and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, that established a student’s right to use facilities that correspond to their gender identity.
Her story was featured in “Raising Zoey,” a documentary by Dante Allancastre, that deftly explored identity and the complex struggles of Zoe’s family.
But in “15: A Quinceañera Story,” directed by Matthew O’Neill and Thalía Sodi, Zoey begins her journey into the real world as her Quinceañera story is broadcast to the world via an HBO documentary that follows the stories of five Latina girls from different backgrounds.
As she heads to New York for the premiere, Zoe is facing her own battles with self-discovery, the awkward phase some might say. She says, “people are expecting a lot from me and I’m not sure I can live up to it all.” School, activism and the spotlight are just a little overwhelming, it seems.
But she has a 16-year-old boyfriend, Austin, a carefree transgender Latino guy, who Zoey says helps her stay confident about who she is. “When I am struggling or when I feel I’m not going to be good enough for something, Austin reminds me that I’ve made it so far with my abilities and intelligence and that I just need to rely on that.”
She hopes everyone will watch the show. “It’s not just about the party. It’s a celebration of becoming.”
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
Since fifth grade; it was hardest to accept myself and love who I am.
Who’s your LGBT hero
Anyone who can come to terms and embrace their identity whether it’s sexual or gender is truly heroic and honorable.
What’s Los Angeles’ best nightspot, past or present?
I’m still 16 years old! But I have visited The Abbey, so I’ll just leave it at that.
Describe your dream wedding.
My dream wedding looks like a beautiful venue covered in white walls with pink roses, a beautiful ‘70s disco ball hanging from the top of the ceiling, and a beautiful bride wearing a pearlescent pink dress that’s named Zoey Luna, with her groom wearing a black tux with a pastel pink bow tie.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
I believe in speaking out against the objectification of women in schools and in the workplace.
What historical outcome would you change?
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
When Kim Kardashian’s Snapchat broke Taylor Swift.
On what do you insist?
Fair and equal rights for all.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
Suggesting others watch “15: A Quinceañera Story.”
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“Buffy got me through it”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
No! I’m totally grateful for who I find attractive. I mean my partner is so gorgeous.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
I’m not religious. I do love listening to theories and suspicions but there is absolutely no god or Satan.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Keep up the good fight and to remember it’s OK if we screw up; we just have to pick ourselves up when we fall.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
A button to change time and make Bernie president. Also to star on Broadway as Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde: The Musical.”
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
That all trans girls are creepy sexual predators who have no class.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
“But I’m a Cheerleader” and “Tangerine.”
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Saying “bless you” after someone sneezes. It’s so annoying when groups say bless you in unison.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
My 8th grade drama award because I’ve always loved the arts and it’s such an honor to be recognized for my talents.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
I’m not 18 yet but I’m fine with what I’ve learned over the years; the person I am today will help me grow as a person in the future.
Why Los Angeles?
Why not? LA is the place to be for diversity and art!