“God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” Coach boomed, “and God forbid if any of you are like that.”
Growing up in the South and attending Jefferson Davis Middle School, I did not know there was a word to describe me—a boy who was attracted to other boys. Nor did I realize there were words to describe how people treated me because of my sexual orientation.
Beginning at a young age, my community, my peers, and my family telegraphed their thoughts about gay people; their words and actions gradually seeped into my conscience, corroding my sense of self-worth. I first recognized I was different in sixth grade, not long before Coach came into my life. To be clear, I loved Coach—he was, in my mind, a good-natured and well-meaning person, which made his words all the more hurtful.
Unfortunately, my childhood and teenage years were littered with small but tragic moments of bigotry, which flowed not from crass antagonists but from people I cared for and respected. I eventually navigated the typical rites of passage for LGBTQ+ people: self-acceptance, coming out to friends and family, and finally building the self-confidence to stand up to these types of personal attacks.
During Pride month, I’m reflecting on how far I’ve come on my personal journey and how far we as a country have evolved on LGBTQ+ issues. Marriage equality is the law of the land and is now supported by a record high 70% of Americans. Just this year, in Virginia, we banned the vile gay and trans panic defense. We have a lesbian United States senator, a gay governor in Colorado, and trans representation in state legislatures across the country, including Virginia. We have come so far and there is so much to be proud of.
But the battle for LGBTQ+ equality is far from over. The Alliance Defending Freedom, a hate organization according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, is successfully passing a wave of anti-trans bills in states across the country. These bills prohibit transgender girls from competing on sports teams that align with their gender identity. And anti-trans bigots are not stopping at sports.
This year, Arkansas passed a bill to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth. This draconian policy will, inevitably, result in the death of some of the most vulnerable young people in our community. Right here in Virginia, a Loudoun County teacher was recently re-instated to his position after being put on probation for refusing to use students’ preferred pronouns.
So, during Pride month, I hope you will join me in celebrating all we have accomplished and remembering the activists who got us here. We must also recognize that we are still fighting for the most basic of human rights for LGBTQ+ people and be firm in our commitment to not leave the most vulnerable in the community behind. We’ve come so far, but we have a long way to go before we achieve true equality.