I just spent the must beautiful day at the Pride festival in downtown Minneapolis, and I wanted to talk about how important the event was to me. As a straight ally who wasn't always as adamant about rights, acceptance, and hopefully love for all, Pride is a culmination of a life journey I am proud to have taken.
2nd Grade: I find out (sort of) what being gay means. When one of my girl friends asks for a kiss on the cheek on Valentine's day, I oblige without thinking twice. Everyone else hesitates and refuses. I worry I might be gay.
7th Grade: My best friend and I are having a discussion in the lunch line about gay marriage. At this point in our lives, we know no one who is openly gay and have barely reached an understanding of what homosexuality means. She is Lutheran, and a fairly accepting person, but unwilling to commit too much to an answer of what she believes politically. I am Catholic and I say, "I think they should be able to get married but not to adopt children because I think that could be confusing for the children." "They" are distant from me, a group I know exists, a group I am not a part of, a group I don't really understand.
9th Grade: One of our most vocal classmates comes out, and proceeds to "change" his sexual orientation several times over. Discussions of whether being gay is a choice ensue. I think you should be able to like whoever you want to like, but you need to pick one and stick with it. I mean, how could you not know?
I go to a youth drag ball, an event in conjunction with the National Conference on Tobacco or Health. Sexualized parts of the drag portion disturb me and my innocent mind, but what really upsets me about it is the highly explicit performance of a straight safe sex educator. My first peek into LGBTQ culture could have gone better, to say the least.
Early high school: I begin to understand more deeply and accept the many different ways people can identify. As I get to know more gay people, there is so much less "them" and "us." One day, none of my limiting thoughts on what it is "okay" for a gay couple to do make sense anymore. I learn about the acronym LGBTQ (sometimes just GLBT at this time), what it means, and I try to squeeze my new, more open worldview into my faith. This proves difficult when considering bisexual people because, I think to myself, can't you just pick one? It doesn't even matter if you pick the one that is for sure "right by God," but it feels wrong to like both genders. And if you have a choice, how can I say God made you that way and therefore must love you?
10th Grade: I "quit the Catholic Church" (did not get confirmed) over issues of injustice and hypocrisy, one of the main ones being their treatment of the LGBTQ population. I was converted to a new set of beliefs.
11th Grade: I'm sitting in the computer lab, puzzling over something one of my friends has just said to me about his ideal relationship. I ask further questions, and he hesitantly admits he likes guys. I am surprised, but generally unfazed. He's more weirded out because, I find out later, I was one of the first people he came out to. He spent a lot of time trying not to be gay to a lack of acceptance in his family. Knowing something so deep about him brings us closer. We begin a lasting friendship.
12th Grade: I stay overnight at Macalester College with a bisexual woman as my host. She has a picture of two women kissing in minimal clothing on her wall. I'm not sure how to feel, but I like visiting Queer Union with her.
I start to push myself (and my family) out of our comfort zones on the topic of sexuality. We go see RENT, I engage them in discussion. I tell them that this is our civil rights movement. I ask, "When we look back on this time in history, don't you want to be able to say, 'I was a part of that?'"I begin to become more a part of LGBTQ culture due to my plethora of friends that identify as one of the letters, and after talking, asking questions, reading, and learning about my mother's ally training, I feel like an ally too.
At Macalester, I become one of the first people another close friend of mine comes out to, who also has a difficult time with his family. My acceptance reassures him, and I keep his secret for weeks, even though we are in one of the most accepting places ever, until he decides he's ready to come out. I even go to the Lavender Reception with him as a straight person so he can be introduced to our queer community without having to come out to the world. I take Psychology of Gender, learn about gender-neutral bathrooms and their importance, and attend a drag show.
Most importantly, I become close friends with many people, those with identities that fit into the initialism and those who don't, for whom love and acceptance come first. As I try to be in the world as an ally, not only for the LGBTQ community, but for all those who might need a friend or a hand, I am inspired so inspired by these people, and every day they keep me moving in a positive direction on my journey.