When I reflect on my own past experiences to where I am today, I am lucky enough to say I have an unconditionally loving father, along with supportive friends and teammates, by my side. Although I have been blessed with a great support system today, I cannot say my life has always been this way. Growing up, coming to terms with my own identity has never been something simple or plain. I, along with many other individuals in the LGBT community, are not estranged from the feelings of shame, not belonging, or bullying. When you think of 2017 and how progressive the United States has come with LGBT rights and our movement toward equality, most people will think that this type of discrimination is for the most part, a thing of the past.
On Mother’s Day evening, a family of five came into my job to what I thought would be a nice family dinner, but to my surprise, it turned out to be something more appalling. When I approached the table after taking their drink order, one of the young preteen daughters, explained to the two older women at the table that she was “coming out” about her sexuality. From this, the two older women begin to belittle the daughter in complete shock that those words would ever come out of her mouth. “That is disgusting. How do I explain this to the church? And family?,do you know what you've just done? I don’t even want to be sitting at this table with you!” The daughter tried to go back on what she had said, in embarrassment, however the two older ladies did not care for what she had to say after that.
No matter how forward we come with LGBT equality, when one struggles, we cannot help but feel the pain. As hard as it is to share these type of stories, they need to be heard, they need to be felt, they need to change. After having heard the older ladies berate the young daughter solely for who she is, I could not help but see my younger self sitting in that same chair, enduring that same criticism. I immediately broke down in tears and refused to continue serving the table. A co-worker of mine tried to explain that the situation is not mine to deal with, that it is purely a family issue, but I believe it IS my issue. It is EVERYONES issue. No one should have to be discriminated against for being who they are. Unfortunately it happens everyday.
This type of hurt did not last in the moment, but prolonged into something deeper than that for me. It does not create hate in my heart for those older ladies, but a compassion that so many people are ignorant to the things they do not understand, and it is our job to educate them. My heart breaks for that girl, and every person who goes through horrible situations similar when they come to terms with their own identity. Sexuality is a small piece of who you are, and that small piece should not determine whether or not you matter. Everyone matters, everyone is deserving of a life full of love and peace.
Each leap and bound toward LGBT equality should be celebrated, but it is important to not forget the struggles we endured and the ones who are still struggling. 77 countries in this world still criminalize homosexuality and it is even punishable by death. Being so heavily involved in my LGBT community in Albany, it is easy to disassociate your personal movements to the movements of others. Equal rights are no different then human rights and it is something I will not ever stop fighting for. With my own efforts, as well as efforts from others around the world to spread awareness, demanding legalization and full equality rights will be something of the past. For now, I am destined to influence the minds of those around me and create a positive change for anyone struggling, or anyone who knows nothing about the LGBT community.
To any and every single person who is struggling with their identity, living in fear, getting or have gotten physically or mentally abused for being themselves, or have lost their lives in the efforts of living out, you are so loved beyond words, and I appreciate who you are.