From South Tahoe High School Ally founder to the first openly gay student body president at Sonoma State, Alex Boyar doesn't let inertia intimidate him.
His efforts to promote diversity and shift the status quo didn't end with graduation. The 22-year-old STHS alumnus now works as the state director of finance for Delaware's Sen. Chris Coons, a job that Boyar calls "a dream for any political fundraiser."
Two pivotal 2008 events sparked Boyar's interest in politics - the election of President Barack Obama and what he called the "crushing defeat" that followed the passage of Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage in California.
Boyar plunged into the world of student government as a freshman at Sonoma State University shortly after that November election. He climbed the collegiate political ranks, culminating as president of the Associated Student Body in his senior year.
While at the university, Boyar helped raised $100,000 to update the school's diversity center and hire a diversity director who ensures that students have access to a safe haven on campus.
"It's the center for that continually ongoing conversation about how we secure long-term diversity," Boyar said.
His work to carve out a niche for students of diverse backgrounds began in the South Shore with the help of fellow STHS graduate Jade Copple and English teacher Bridey Heidel. If they could make STHS a more comfortable environment for even one lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender student, the work would be worth it, Boyar said.
Boyar came out of the closet when he was 15 years old. His parents were "accepting and loving" but his peers were not always so tolerant. A suicide note that a student wrote during Boyar's sophomore year convinced him that the environment at the high school needed to change. So he founded Ally, a club for LGBT students, that year.
The administration supported the club, but Heidel said she sometimes fielded questions and concerns from the community. STHS staff would address bullying issues on campus if they heard about them, but students often kept silent, Heidel said.
"Jade and Alex just put themselves out there. It was pretty brave of them to be on the front lines. (Boyar) was very willing to be public, and he was doing this at a time when he was very much alone ... The entire school benefits from their bravery," she said.
Boyar said he battled discrimination from some of his fellow students through junior year, but Ally changed that.
"It was a dark and scary place for a time. But it didn't hit me because I was doing what I believed in and was living my truth," Boyar said.
"The fact of the matter is I was the token LGBT student. I was out there. There were times when I got picked on, when students didn't say the kindest things, when it got scary. But by my senior year, it really started to turn around," he said.
By the 2007-08 school year, many people had rallied around Ally. Students would wear the club's T-shirts around South Lake Tahoe and more teens were openly stating that they were gay or lesbian.
"He wanted other kids to have a safe harbor. He was tormented. It's tough being different," Boyar's mother, Virginia Boyar, said.
Boyar moved to Delaware five days after graduating from Sonoma. He helped raise $180,000 for Andy Staton's campaign for a senate seat before Coons hired him to be his fundraising and finance director.
"It's pretty cool, especially when you consider some of his struggles in (high) school. For me, it's not just that Alex got this amazing job. It's this small town kid who stuck out like a sore thumb setting an example for other students to follow," Virginia Boyar said.