California Teen Is the First Transgender Student on Her High School's Cheerleading Squad

"They're really supportive," Anry Fuentes tells PEOPLE of her teammates

Photo: Courtesy Anry Fuentes

Anry Fuentes has always wanted to be a cheerleader – and when she made varsity, she also made history as the squad’s first transgender student.

“When I was first trying out for the cheer squad, I wasn’t like, ‘I’m going to be the first transgender girl,’ ” the 17-year-old tells PEOPLE. “I was just trying out because I wanted to be a cheerleader, and I wanted to dance and cheer.”

Fuentes realized she was transgender her junior year, after struggling with her gender and sexual identity throughout her adolescence.

“I knew that I didn’t feel like most boys do,” she says. “My freshman year I came out as gay. I didn’t even know what gay was. Going into my junior year, I started doing research. I was like, ‘Am I really gay?’ And I was like, ‘No, I’m transgender.’ ”

Fuentes still identified as a boy when she joined the cheerleading team at Denair High School, in Denair, California, and when she decided to transition, she sat down with all of her teammates to tell them.

“They were really nice,” she says. “They were like, ‘We support you for who you are. We love you, and it’s not going to change anything. We’re not going to see you any differently.’ ”

They have stayed true to their word.

“No one has ever made me feel weird or like I shouldn’t be there,” Fuentes says. “They’re really supportive.”

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Things didn’t go as smoothly when the teen came out to her mother.

“She told me if I didn’t start dressing like the gender I was issued when I was born that she was going to throw all my stuff away,” Fuentes says. “That gave me the hint that she didn’t want me there anymore because she knew I wasn’t going to stop dressing as I felt. I packed my stuff and I left, and I went to live with another cheerleader.”

Fortunately, Fuentes and her mother are now working through their issues, and Fuentes plans on moving back into her own house soon.

“There’s still stuff we have to arrange, but for the most part it will be better now than it was before, when I left,” Fuentes says.

Despite hardships at home, Fuentes is happy to have gone public with her true identity.

“I’m kind of glad that it’s getting out, so it can help others who are struggling,” she says. “I have been getting a lot of really nice messages from transgender girls and parents who are like, ‘Your story is really touching, you’re so strong.’

“It made me feel good, because I see that I’m helping.”

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