HERE IS ONE OF OUR FINALIST ESSAYS. WE HOPE YOU ENJOY READING IT AS MUCH AS WE DID!
When I was a junior in high school, I remember the bliss I felt when my high school GSA wore temporary rainbow heart tattoos to bring awareness about the Defense of Marriage Act and the struggles LGBT youth face mostly in silence. I remember when my classmates threw the word “fag” like it was “hey” or “today.” I remember the tears in my eyes when I watched the anchor on MSNBC announce that love is love, but even more, when riding a float in New York City pride the next week seeing a young boy jumping for joy on the sidewalk with a flower crown on his head. I remember my tears and trembling fingers as I watched the coverage of the shooting at Pulse. For the first time, I felt helpless. That I couldn’t do something, anything.
When I started my first year at college, I learned the GSA had been inactive for two years. By stroke of luck, I learned of two other people who wanted to revive it as well. With that first meeting of us three in October with half a dozen interested people GLOW UP (Gay, Lesbian, or Whatever U Prefer) was reborn. Mercy College is a small college, which fuels an instinct to conform and blend in. As part of GLOW UP, immediately, I with my group members and now best friends started organizing events and fundraisers. We organized a dance, which despite a school official having it printed in the events calendar as “Queer Dance,” it was a success for it was inclusive of everyone. I’m proud to have been part of fundraisers for groups like GLSEN and the Elton John AIDS Foundation, and representing our group at Gay Men of African Descent’s HIV+/AIDS Heroes Celebration. I think of the friendships past and current members have made feeling free to be themselves in meetings and outside: inviting them to have dinner after class and join us at RA events.
My group members and I joke that no matter how tired we are events and fundraisers are easy. The activism is the tougher part. We successfully pushed for more LGBT resources on the college website and established a relationship with the campus therapist’s office. This past academic year, the GLOW UP President and I petitioned and suggested to our Student Life ways to make the housing selection easier for trans students and pushed for mixed gender housing so LGBT students could have any option of who they desire to live with. I’m saddened to say we have lost members and gained some haters for standing up for trans and bisexual inclusivity on campus, but it has always been worth it to place unity and community support first.
Sometimes, you have to get creative or be open to working in more complex areas. Despite, more acceptance of LGBT people by younger generations there are still many in the closet. I used social media and dating apps to be able to reach those living in the closet and who fear being outed by attending our meetings or events. I remember a couple nights sitting outside in the dark talking with a male student who had not even told his closest friends he was bi and was afraid to tell his parents his liked guys. I think at the core of activism and community, we all want a person we can talk to and who understands their struggles and feelings.
The relationship between the LGBT community and religion has intrigued me over the past couple years. I am not religious, but attend almost regularly during my college academic year South Presbyterian Church, a member of the More Light Faction. A group of Presbyterian churches that supports LGBT rights. I started attending with my own suspicions as a person raised Catholic, but I wanted to extend an open mind and love even when I was out of my comfort zone. My freshman year, I was a volunteer at the church’s food pantry and was honored to be elected to serve a three year term as Deacon assisting congregants and the church’s social work programs.
Many of my friends, especially those LGBT, carry suspicions or disdain for religion due the actions of the churches they grew up in or the church’s disapproval of LGBT rights. Though, I am one person I am happy my experience at South Presbyterian Church has made them more comfortable in church settings. Two of GLOW UP’s strongest supporters are The LOFT and Maranatha Ministries, LGBT religious & social work organizations. A long-term dream of mine is to see LGBT people be welcomed and feel comfortable in all settings, especially settings historically unwelcoming to LGBT people, to assist in a greater goal of healing and unity.
As I prepare to enter my senior year of college and have begun interning at different companies, a new focus of mine is workplace inclusion and safety. I do not think of myself as an activist, but as one person of a collective movement and community seeking inclusion, acceptance of what makes us individuals and alike, and treated with dignity as any other person.
As I rode the float down Fifth Avenue during New York City pride, I saw three young children with bright smiles. In that moment, I hoped my actions and those of hundreds of thousands before me have made an easier and safer country for the future generations of LGBT people and Allies to grow up in. The saddest part of our community’s history is the number of people who have been bullied, fired, beaten, and killed for the radical idea of living our truth. I dream and hope of a day that we can end this chapter of our history.
“Hope Will Never Be Silent” – Harvey Milk