I came out in the woods, but really it was in a whisper.
It was dark, and I sat on a bridge surrounded by my closest friends. My voice shook when I told them, and when I was done, I was engulfed in a love I had never quite experienced before. A weight, the heaviest of burdens I had ever carried, felt light for the first time in my life. That was almost a year ago, and I have felt the impact of that decision every day since.
It meant feeling the tightness in my chest when I told my mom and watching her cry when she realized discrimination could follow me forever. It meant clenching my jaw when asked by a professor if I am gay, and knowing the only options I had were either to lie or give up the chance to come out for myself. It meant finally being able to live my life openly but in an America where my worth is now determined by the outline of our borders.
Spread throughout our country are the states that protect me from discrimination. Put them on a map, and you can see a pattern: a few on the west coast, a cluster in the northeast and some scattered throughout the middle. Take a handful away, and you’ll be left with the few who think gender identity is worth protecting, too.
Nebraska, the state that raised me and gave me a home, offers me very little protection. Missouri, where I call myself a Tiger, offers me just as few. But in Arizona, anti-gay advocates are just a signature away from a law that would mark the return of legal segregation.
The law would allow business owners to deny service to gays and lesbians if it conflicted with their religious beliefs to do so. This bill passed the Arizona House, it passed the Arizona Senate, too, and now, it waits for Gov. Jan Brewer to make a decision. And while it waits, Missouri has decided to follow in Arizona’s footsteps and introduce similar legislation.
This fight is not abstract anymore, and to be honest with you, it never really was. What I have learned in the past year is that when people know someone who is gay, it changes everything. It shows them how personal this fight is and how close it hits to home. And if this bill passes, it will be me who could be turned away at the door simply because I am gay. This isn’t religious freedom; this is an attempt to further oppress me and others like me.
The people who want this bill to pass are the same people who are trying to keep my community passive. We don’t care if you’re gay, they say. Just keep it to yourself, they say. No holding hands, they say. Be quiet and try to fit in, they say. Don’t mind this sign, they say. No service to gays, they say. It’s our right, our freedom, our duty, they say.
They say. They say. They say.
And while they are saying, we are doing. We are reading between the lines and seeing all the love that comes from a new interpretation. We are finding our voices in a sea of oppression and realizing the more marginalized all the more powerful. And together, we are joining hands and uniting under the pretense of a better tomorrow.
So you see, we were never meant to be quiet. Being quiet is signs in the windows of businesses in Missouri. What we are meant to do is shout loud enough for everyone to hear. Because when we do, we get Stonewall. We get Bayard Rustin. We get Harvey Milk and Tammy Baldwin. We get the Matthew Shepard Act and Lawrence v. Texas. We get Edie Windsor and more days like June 26, 2013.
That is the noise I’d join in any day, and from now on, I promise you, it won’t be in a whisper.