Saturday, December 22, 2012

on being a straight ally.

My view while waiting to march with Mormons
Building Bridges at NYC Pride 2012.
A friend recently asked me where my interest in reporting on LGBT issues came from, and it made me pause. I'd been asked this before, in job interviews and on a personal level, and my answers have varied. But what I think I avoided was talking about the personal story behind my passion for what I believe is one of the most important civil rights issues of our time.

When I was 19, one of my best friends came out to me. It was a very personal moment, and one that I didn't know how to respond to. It was the first time someone so close had come out to me. It was a big moment for him and it was huge to be one of his first confidantes, and I saw the anguish in his face as he tried to find the words. Over the course of the next year, I watched his journey as he struggled to accept who he was in the context of his family and of society. In the years that followed the first year of hardships were more challenges, and my admiration and appreciation grew for him tenfold. 

And then the suicides began making national headlines, and the reality of the world we live in hit even harder. Seeing Prop 8 pass had been one thing, but suddenly it became terrifying: kids were ending their lives because of hatred that is truly and unfortunately the norm. It wasn't just policy in this country that was hurting a community; it was our culture. 

I began to read more and learn more, and as I did, there was a personal aspect to all this too: my best friend. A wonderful person who didn't deserve to be discriminated against for simply being who he is. And all of the kids ending their lives, all of the people unable to live safely and equally in a tolerant society…they were best friends of others too. 

It seems like an obvious and simple realization, but it's a powerful enough of one to make you really think about the inequality and injustice too many people face. When people asked me in college why I wanted to be a journalist, I always said it was because I wanted to give a voice to the voiceless. It's because I want to tell stories, and tell them well; to unveil truths and to encourage a conversation. 

Somewhere between college and the real world, I lost that dream. I lost the drive and ambition to be a storyteller. I began adding to the noise, and not contributing to the conversation. The few moments where I had the opportunity to do what I studied in college to do in the real world were precious, but few, and I still pride myself on covering the Super Bowl parade (that became a story on the controversy behind whether or not the city should host a parade for returning Iraq war vets), the NYC Pride March (that was a story on a group of Mormons marching for the first time in support of equality), and Occupy Wall Street (that examined the one-year anniversary of the movement that seemed to have come from nowhere) on the ground, and not from my desk while on the phone. 

And when I looked back on those moments, and farther back to the reporting I did while interning in D.C., I realized that I can and still do have the chance to tell the stories that matter. I jumped back in with an incredible story of a 21-year-old activist's coming out and how it inspired him to do something crazy creative to raise money for an LGBT youth center and homeless shelter in NYC that suffered severe damage from Hurricane Sandy. 

In reporting and writing that story, I remembered why I wanted to be a journalist: because people have incredible stories, and with the right questions to capture the emotions of the moment, those stories can be inspiring, heartbreaking, captivating, and beautiful. When I think back to my best friend, who is now in a lovely and committed relationship, I realize that I learned to ask those "right" questions because of him and because of what he taught me in this journey he went through that he let me be a part of.

I truly believe the movement for LGBT rights and equality is one of the biggest fights of our time, and I believe in the stories to tell surrounding it. And maybe the words I write now won't be around 20 years from now, and these stories will fade the second they go up online. But what matters is that it's happening right now, and that there are lives being lived right now full of the struggles that come with discrimination from a society that still contains some who will choose to inflict pain rather than embrace love. 

1 comment:

  1. I wrote a heartfelt and insightful comment on this, and then my mobile got confused and deleted it. But I still love you, really.