12/20/2013 07:31 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

How the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center Saved My Life

I grew up in Mexico, and it wasn't an easy life for me and my family. I knew I was gay at a very early age, and when I was just 14 years old a guy I knew showed me how I could prostitute myself for money. That way I was able to get clothes and shoes because yes, we were that poor.

My mother was very religious and worried that I would end up being gay. With those fears in mind, she was determined to change me. She wanted to know where I was and whom I was with at all times, and consistently told me that I dressed "too gay," and that I had to change.

When I was 16 my mom forced me to go into the seminary for a year. There was no decision or even an ultimatum. She was simply convinced the priests could make me straight.

One night, when I was living in the seminary, I went to a gay bar and saw one of the priests from my seminary there. Next thing I knew the priest was on my case about everything. I wasn't doing my homework right, I wasn't spiritual enough, and I wasn't doing my chores correctly. He eventually told my mother that I was being kicked out because someone saw me in a gay club, though they would consider letting me come back if I went to psychotherapy. Of course he never told my mother that he was the one who saw me in the gay bar.

When I returned home I felt such guilt and shame about who I was. Shortly thereafter, I met an older American man who was vacationing in Mexico. We became boyfriends and he would come every month to see me. I soon decided that this might be my opportunity to get away from the pressures stemming from my family and finally be my true self, so I left home and moved to the U.S. to join my boyfriend.

About a year and a half later my boyfriend and I broke up. I was now homeless and HIV-positive. I got on a bus and headed to Los Angeles, where I met another man. He and I would go on to become boyfriends and move in together, but all was not well. At this point I had already been drinking for a few years, and I soon got introduced to crystal meth. I tried to stop drinking and using, but I couldn't. My boyfriend became emotionally and physically abusive, and it felt as if it was all coming to a head.

After putting up with the abuse for nine months, I finally realized I had to get sober and change my life. I started going to AA meetings, where a couple of friends from AA suggested I go to the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. They knew people who had been to the Center and had really good experiences. Three days later I became a client at the Center when I moved into their Transitional Living Program.

I was given a bed, food and clothing. Then the real work began.

I was also given free healthcare, including mental health counseling, treatment for my HIV and regular dental checkups. After taking the Center's employment workshops I was able to get my first job. They gave me bus tokens for transportation and lunch every day. The friends I made became my family.

Walking through the doors of the Center literally saved my life. The Center taught me how to become an adult and showed me how to take responsibility for my life. I left the Transitional Living Program after about a year and a half; however, I returned about six months later after another relationship ended. It was such a relief to know I had safe place to go that felt like home.

That was six years ago. Today I am a successful hairstylist in Beverly Hills. I have a good relationship with my mother and the rest of my family. And I also met the love of my life almost three years ago and we're engaged to be married.

I'll forever be grateful and appreciative for everything the Center did for me. The Center gave me a chance and a life, and I hope you'll join me in creating that opportunity for someone else.