OPINION: What we couldn’t imagine

Austin Belet, Opinions Editor

Growing up I knew I was different. I knew that what everyone considered “normal” wasn’t necessarily how I felt. When someone would make gay jokes or make fun of someone for the same reason, I felt uncomfortable. When I heard of churches protesting the rights of same-sex couples, I squirmed.

Growing up LGBT made me believe the world was against me, that solely because I might be in love with a man meant that someone would give me hell. It meant that church hated me and that the thought of being in the public eye was never going to work out in my favor.

This is what growing up LGBT looked like when all I saw was celebrities sexuality being viewed as scandalous and the Westboro Baptist Church parading with signs that tell the world homosexuality is a sin.

But today we have Mayor Pete Bettigieg (an openly gay, and religious, man) running for president and RuPaul winning awards.

When people get upset about J.K. Rowling making it known that Dumbledore is gay or get upset that a commercial features two moms as parents instead, this is exactly the kind of representation that helps to normalize the lives that millions of Americans lead.

Mayor Pete represents a new acceptance that I never expected to see, and I know for sure those LGBT activists who were around for the AIDS epidemic and Stonewall would agree.

As a kid I never could have pictured someone who is openly gay running for President, not when it was explained to me that Adam Lambert wasn’t able to win American Idol because of his sexuality.

If a gay man couldn’t win a singing competition that he clearly deserved to win, what could they do?

Clearly we aren’t at the full inclusion stage yet, after all we do still have the campus open-air preachers that get on to girls with shorts that are too short and men who are a bit too swishy and a Vice President who actively lauds non-profits who seek to transform the sins of homosexuality.

But Mayor Pete has proved that we are changing.

In 1974, Ann Arbor elected the countries first openly LGBT politician ever. That person was Kathy Kozachenko, a 21-year old english major who identifies as lesbian.

Let me make this perfectly clear: She was the first out politician elected to office, not the first LGBT person who held office. She was elected with the city of Ann Arbor knowing she was a lesbian.

Harvey Milk ran his historic campaign for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors by making it apparent and known, in the face of anti-sodomy laws, that people knew people who were LGBT. He encouraged the community to come out and make themselves known.

Marsha P. Johnson was one of the leaders of the Stonewall Riots back in 1969, fighting to ensure that the LGBT community could live their lives without the bitterness that was experienced by society.

Today we have an openly bisexual senator from Arizona with Kyrsten Sinema, three openly LGBT members elected to the Florida legislature (Shervin Jones, Jennifer Webb, and Carlos Guillermo-Smith), a gay governor in Colorado (Jared Polis), and a gay man running for President.

Representation matters. For those of us who remember when this wasn’t an option, or at least when it didn’t feel like one, this kind of notoriety is incredibly important. This signals to us that we are gaining ground even when it may not feel like it.

To see people achieve a goal that I thought was a pipe dream is something I could never have imagined.


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