I recently attended Equality Florida’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) Network Leadership Summit in Broward County. Participating in this event showed me that my time, effort and financial contribution as a Florida Council member have paid off ten-fold.
I attended the summit as a representative of the "Safe To Be Me Coalition," a group of public and private organizations and individuals who have come together to protect our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students.
My contribution to the event involved a collection of age-appropriate LGBT books that The Stonewall Library & Archives had put together based on recommendations from the American Library Association’s GLBT Round Table. I wanted to know where the book collection would best be available; the county youth group, a travelling collection going from school to school; or placed in a central resource center.
The room was bursting with energy as Equality Florida Field Director Joe Saunders and Michael Farmer began the Leadership Summit. Over 120 amazing, beautiful, intelligent, articulate gay and gay friendly young men and women interacted that day in a way I have never experienced.
You see, I went to high school in the 1960’s and in the midst of racial segregation. When I realized my ‘problem’ had a name I went to the public library and found, in the few books there, that I had a deviant disease, or ,at best, “The Love that Dare not Speak It’s Name.” This single experience is what drives my passion for making books and archival collections available to our entire community, young and old alike.
I sat in on one of the small group discussions where the students were to write, “The Story of Me.” Joe had explained that you can’t really show other people who you are and why your rights are important if you don’t know who you are yourself. I would have been extremely hesitant about sharing my story with strangers at their age. I thought to myself, “What a wonderful safe place Equality Florida created today.” Outside there was bigotry and ignorance, while inside this room was energy, positive thoughts and actions, and a showcase of what the future of LGBT activism is going to be.
The first story was from a young man, we’ll call Tom. Tom was junior, on the swim team, involved in the school paper and doing well in classes. He talked about his first challenge in facing his struggle between the person he was and who others thought he was. He had secretly befriended an openly gay male student in the school. They had met online and spent time together evenings and weekends, but Tom never interacted with his new friend during school hours because Tom’s other friends ridiculed and mocked the gay student daily. Tom never stood up for him, never asked the other boys to stop. The experience even deepening Tom’s fear of coming out.
One day, Tom and the openly gay student were walking out of class together and as they reached the door. Tom realized his friends were just outside in the hall. If they saw them walking and talking together they would assume he too was gay. But how could he just ignore his new friend? That was his moment of internal challenge. Tom grabbed the boy by the arm and walked him over to his group of friends and introduced him and then announced, “we have a lot in common, we’re both gay.” I could see that, in recalling the event, Tom replayed his physical reaction of holding his breath waiting for the response.
Today, Tom is president of his school’s GSA and was in charge of the pep rally for Spirit Week. He spoke those last words of accomplishment with the confidence of a high school quarterback or captain of the cheerleading squad. And that is exactly the way it should be.
I have seen the future and it is bright.
(For more information on GLBT books in age appropriate listings visit http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/rts/glbtrt/index.cfm)