“I feel way better now. Now I know who I am, my parents know who I am.”

Lara Pallonji

With June comes Pride Month, a time dedicated to celebrating the 2SLGBTQ+ community. This month is crucial for raising awareness and reaffirming that love is love, no matter the gender, sex and sexuality. But let’s not forget, Pride Month is every month!

If you’re a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community and are navigating difficult times, know that you’re not alone. In many cases, reading about others’ coming-out stories or having someone to talk to play a vital role in supporting many 2SLGBTQ+ lives.

To celebrate and share the journeys of Humber College and the University of Guelph-Humber 2SLGBTQ+ students, we sat down with Humber student Lara Pallonji to hear her story and experiences.

Pallonji, who identifies as female and is a lesbian, recently finished her first year in the police foundations program at the Lakeshore campus. Being an older sister, she has always enjoyed taking care of kids. An athletic person, she has played nearly 10 different sports throughout her life. She combines her love for sports and caring for children in her job as a youth soccer coach.

Picture of Lara Pallonji playing Rugby.
Picture provided by Lara Pallonji.

Pallonji’s background had a big influence on her journey coming out. She is Roman Catholic but was also exposed to Zoroastrianism through her father and grandfather. Although she was never converted, she still follows some Zoroastrian traditions.

Growing up in the Catholic School Board, Pallonji mentions being shielded from what was considered different from the “normal.” It wasn’t until her early high school days that she learned more about the 2SLGBTQ+ community and realized that two girls could be together.

As Pallonji started exploring her sexuality, she recalls it took a while to accept that she was a lesbian woman. She struggled with a lot of internalized homophobia because the environment she grew up in never really discussed these topics.

Pallonji also knew that the way she presented herself would reflect on her family, and not fitting the “ideal image” that she was supposed to have affected her.

“It really affected me when I realized I was disgusted of myself. I shouldn’t have been, but that was the reaction because of everything,” Pallonji said.

Although Pallonji describes her background as not being welcoming of the 2SLGBTQ+ community and she feared coming out to her father, her inner battle was the most challenging to overcome.

Pallonji is very close to her community and loves giving back to it, so the fear of being seen differently was terrifying. “I was just scared,” Pallonji said.

She believes having a safe space is key to self-acceptance and comfort, which she didn’t have for her sexuality. Turning to religion, she reminded herself, “God loves everyone,” emphasizing that she shouldn’t be ashamed because she’s loving someone or herself.

A significant moment in her journey was experimenting with different clothing styles. Pallonji likes to express her sexuality through her clothing and prefers dressing a bit more masculine because it boosts her confidence. She learned to find her style, resulting in a variety of aesthetics in her closet.

Picture of Lara Pallonji.
Picture provided by Lara Pallonji.

While Pallonji battled with her inner conflict, she also feared officially coming out to her father. She first told her mom, in grade 10. Early in grade 11, a school guidance counsellor told her dad about her relationship with another girl. Her dad kept bringing it up, relating it to her bad grades, which made Pallonji anxious about what could happen next. This even affected her relationship, as she had to weigh whether it was worth the family tension.

It wasn’t until late grade 11 that she officially came out to her father and introduced her girlfriend to him. Introducing her to the family was nerve-wracking, but Pallonji mentions her grandparents being fine, and now everyone seems to accept quite well.

Despite all this pressure during her high school years, Pallonji feels way better today. She says that not only do her parents know who she is, but she knows who she is. However, this doesn’t mean she doesn’t take extra precautions depending on where they go, as hate crimes are still a reality and have happened to her before.

Before they were even official, Pallonji and her girlfriend were hanging out in front of their school when two boys approached them. They were also students and started asking uncomfortable questions, even asking the girls to kiss in front of them. They kept asking for their numbers and claiming they could change the girls.

“We [Pallonji and her girlfriend] weren’t official, we were just going out. So getting asked all these personal questions of how you are supposed to be with someone was definitely one of our serious experiences. It took a while to be able to feel comfortable and to feel safe at school,” Pallonji said.

Picture of Lara Pallonji and her girlfriend.
Picture provided by Lara Pallonji.

As Pallonji is studying to become a police officer, she mentions another concern that’s been on her mind. She recalls last year’s Pride parade, where she witnessed someone shouting at a police officer. She fears that people in the 2SLGBTQ+ community might view her negatively without realizing she’s part of it.

However, this fear, along with her experiences in the Catholic School Board, only strengthens her goal to make a difference. Pallonji says that her diverse background and experiences shape her identity, and she wants to be a positive representation, especially for youth. She acknowledges that many people believe policing isn’t doing enough, and she aims to prove them wrong and advocate for their voices.

One of her main focuses is working with youth. Pallonji believes our society would face fewer issues if we positively impact young people early on. She thinks that proper guidance could have prevented many of the challenges she faced.

“One thing I’d like to do is definitely work with schools. I want to create that safety and security that I never got. I want people to be able to love another person without fear,” Pallonji said.

Pallonji says she replied to IGNITE’s story on Instagram to express her interest in sharing her story because she wants to be that representation for others. She emphasizes that it’s OK if your coming-out story isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. According to her, having to go through different pathways to be yourself is normal, and she wants people to know they’re not alone.

For her, Pride means having the confidence to be who you are without looking back. She highlights how no one should ever have to hide who they are.

Picture of Lara Pallonji and her girlfriend.
Picture provided by Lara Pallonji.

A journey of love, self-discovery and inner battles. Pallonji went through many challenges but overcame them. Her background, religion and culture are integral parts of who she is today and aspires to become. Being a police officer remains her primary goal. She believes it will help her advocate for the 2SLGBTQ+ community and empower youth.

The IGNITE Pride Scholarship applications are still open for another week! IGNITE recognizes the unique challenges faced by the community, so we award five students every year with a $1000 scholarship. If you’re a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community and a Humber or UofGH student, visit our website and apply today!

IGNITE also has a new section on our website with a comprehensive list of 2SLGBTQ+ resources!

For article features, reach out to us on our socials @shareignite.

Feature image courtesy of Lara Pallonji.

Do you want to learn more about the history of The Village? Check out the history of the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood!

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