OUT ON THE HILL is the official blog of the Victory Congressional Interns. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of LGBTQ Victory Institute. Learn more about the internship at victoryinstitute.org/vci.
Only one metaphor can describe my experience as a gay American: a walk on a tug-of-war tightrope. In other words, it is a life on the edge–supported only by a fatal combination of back-and-forth pulls between oppression and liberation. I vividly remembered the place where I encountered this endless struggle firsthand: biology class.
It is the last week of tenth grade in my rural hometown of Irmo, South Carolina. I eagerly skip into my biology class, curious, naïve, and patient. I am ready to gain a special something that only my biology teacher can provide: sex education. Mrs. Gordon makes her way to the PowerPoint, and I get comfortable in my seat so I have no distractions. When the presentation starts, I look to the screen ready to be educated on how someone like me would practice safe sex. To my disappointment–but not to my surprise–no such person was on the screen. Nevertheless, I am still hopeful; if I wait, surely I will see myself. Ms. Gordon proceeds with the slides. I wait… and wait… and wait… and eventually, the slides come to an end. Something was not right; I rush to talk to Ms. Gordon after class and ask her what went wrong. Upon her answer, I am suddenly no longer curious, naïve, or patient. I am now confused as to why the extent of my sex education is the necessity and urgency for abstinence. I am now enraged that there is a law in my state that forbids public school teachers from teaching about “alternative lifestyles.” Above all, I am restless and no longer waiting. I am restless in knowing that legislators and public officials of my birthplace would sincerely believe it is best for the state to outlaw the word “gay” in my classroom. In this tender moment of my adolescence, the relentless power of discrimination pulled through, and there was little I could do. From not having equitable sexual education to not having a hate crime law, living as a gay South Carolinian defined my perspective of the law to lived experience. Similar to walking down a tightrope, I have narrowly staggered down this lonely and life-threatening thread, never fully upright and always unsure of how discrimination and prejudice will lead to my downfall.
Unexpectedly, though, everything now is different; South Carolina is vastly different from this new world of Washington, D.C. Shortly after starting my Congressional internship, I discerned a critical difference between this foreign world and my hometown: the strength in the presence and representation of the queer community. Upon arriving in the District of Columbia, I was quickly comforted by the open embrace of several individuals within the queer community. I met with my beautiful cohort, brought together by the LGBTQ Victory Institute, that has a myriad of differing, yet similar queer outlooks on life. I learned that in my office placement, the Chief of Staff is queer and is ever involved in the community by giving back to queer youth. The most moving of such experiences and exposure has been meeting former Mayor of Houston and President/CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, Anise Parker. Knowing that she was a political figure in a southern state, especially Texas, reinvigorated my once-lost eagerness and curiousness. I wondered how she balanced activism for the community whilst advancing her political platform in a state infamous for its ostracization. I asked Mayor Parker, “have you thought about leaving your state; have you not ever wanted to advocate in a place where your voice is more likely to be heard?” In response, she said, “No. Absolutely not. Sure, it would be easier, but advocacy is not about doing what is easy, it is about doing what is right.” I will never forget her answer; it will always remind me of the importance of domestic advocacy no matter where I have been and where I am going. Certainly, being in the nation’s capital has inspired me to continue advocacy, but more importantly, it has activated my values specifically to advocate from where I am from.
Indeed, even though my home has disappointed and disrespected our community, I refuse to leave it behind. In being surrounded by this vibrant community in Washington, D.C., I have regained my once-lost hope in the pull for liberation. Yes, all queer people walk on a tug-of-war tightrope. On one side, there is a support system that hopes for flourishment and on the other there is a prejudice that prays on downfalls. However, now that I am finally experiencing the moral arc of this universe in the heart of our nation, I have faith that the unyielding passion to protect queer people is bending this arc towards justice. These experiences gained as a Congressional intern are convincing me that this is a tightrope walk towards equity. Making it to the end of this path will prove to be incredibly rigorous, but if doing so allows another black, gay boy from South Carolina to find peace in this world and balance within himself, it will prove to be undoubtedly rewarding.