Press and Awards
Tampa transgender teen graduates but hasn’t found what she’s looking for — yet
TAMPA — The graduates sat in the Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall, listening to the sounds of rolling thunder, crying infants and their principal’s words bounce off the metal rafters.
They all stood for the Pledge of Allegiance, observed a moment of silence for fallen classmates, and applauded members of the military. But when the 635 students from Alonso High School were asked to cheer for friends and family who helped them reach this milestone, Ariel Zavala instead threw a demure smile over her shoulder to her mother, father, sister and grandmother in the row behind her.
Transgender teen steps out on prom night
TAMPA — It was clear to all who saw her Saturday night that Ariel Zavala is growing into a beautiful woman.
Dressed in a floor-length red skirt, black mesh top and perfectly styled hair extensions, the 17-year-old Alonso High School senior was the walking embodiment of the glamour of prom night.
Yet it wasn’t her daughter’s beauty that brought her mother, Monica Zavala, to tears as she watched her lip synch and mug for the camera with her friends over dinner. It was her bravery.
Ariel Zavala began classes at the largest public high school in Hillsborough County as Angel, a freshman boy who just had come out as a transgender girl months before. It took four emotional years of hormone therapy, cosmetic surgery and tough conversations with school leaders for Ariel to feel comfortable enough in her own skin to attend prom as a woman.
Transgender students finding a voice in schools
TAMPA — On a Saturday afternoon, Ariel Zavala sits in the back of Capelo’s Salon in Tampa as her mother carefully sets her acrylic nails. Her tips are long and pointy and painted a feisty, fire-engine red.
It’s hard to imagine that four years ago they were short and plain and belonged to a boy named Angel.
But like her nails, Zavala has grown. For the past two years she has lived as a transgender female.
“Freshman year was the first time I let my friends ever see my nails, and I would wear them short and a neutral color like nude or white,” Zavala said. “When I would go in public I would hide them in my sleeves because I didn’t want other people to see that I’m different. By junior year I started getting into rhinestones and pointy nails and showing them off.”
She goes through all the emotional ups and downs of any 17-year-old teenage girl but is still working to shed her boy body. Seven months after the Tribune first reported on Zavala’s transition, she’s settling into her senior year at Alonso High School with a new look and a new name inspired by The Little Mermaid, the classic fairy tale of a girl who changes form to find a world where she belongs.
Tampa transgender teen living life of transition
TAMPA — Clad in a baggy button-down shirt, tight black pants, light makeup and combat boots, 16-year-old Angel Zavala steps off the school bus at the largest public high school in Hillsborough County, ready to face whatever the day throws at her.
Being a teenager comes with its share of angst, but the Alonso High School junior and others like her endure more than typical high school troubles.
The gender Zavala identifies with does not match the body she was born with.
Since she came out to her family as a transgender girl about two years ago, the Zavalas have been navigating an emotional transition process — mastering new pronouns, beginning hormone therapy, working with school leaders to get her support.
“It’s hard for me to look in the mirror,” Zavala said. “I don’t see the person I’m supposed to be.”