I was 14 when I asked my mother if I could join the school’s GSA. I was only a sophomore and looking for student organizations I had never given much thought to the previous year. There was an alphabetized list of organizations in my student planner. By each name, a faculty contact and a short description of each group was shown. I skimmed the first page.
Anime club? No.
Black Student Alliance? Maybe.
Drama Club? LOL, can’t act.
Gay/Straight Alliance? Why not.
“An organization focusing on human rights. GSA brings homosexual and heterosexual students together to promote a safe and accepting environment for all regardless of sexual orientation. The mission of this club is truly to combat homophobia in our school and to help achieve equality for all people. Activities include community service projects, fundraisers, and social events.”
I was completely for it. I did not self-identify as gay, but the purpose statement resonated with me. I had never given much thought to the gay community. I was only acutely aware of the bullying and anti-gay sentiment because I never experienced it/personally knew anyone who was gay and experienced it. If there was an official group to foster positive gay and straight relationships, I figured it must be something my community could improve on.
“What do you think of me joining the school’s Gay/Straight Alliance?”
I stood in the doorway of my Mom’s office. She was preoccupied with paperwork, but her hands stopped moving.
“You okay?” I asked. It came out as a nervous laugh. I found her non-verbal reaction rather strange. I asked to join a club, not order birth control.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she said.
That was when she looked at me.
“I don’t want people to think you’re, you know.”
“Mom, it says Gay/Straight Alliance. And I’m not gay. Who cares?”
“I know what it means, sweetie. But I don’t want you to give off the wrong impression.”
I knew better than to prolong this conversation. I had been to church long enough and sat through Sunday breakfasts with her and the rest of my family to know their take on homosexuality. It would not change. I also didn’t know anyone who could give me rides to and from meetings anyway, so I decided not to join.
I can’t help but think how much of a coward I was. Then again, I was only 14. I’m not the person I am now: the outspoken, semi-radical young woman whose not very persistent in following a socially conservative point of view — even if it’s from a person I love.
Quite honestly, I was upset. Confused. Frustrated. I simply wanted to help. I wanted to do my part in ending the bigotry and biases against homosexuals. But my interest in the GSA was a violation of an unspoken rule. Why would a straight person stand up for gays?
I went to the pride parade in Chicago this summer with my aunt and her friend. I remember my Mom texted me what’s up, and in a few moments, we were at it again. She didn’t understand why her daughter was interested in attending a gay pride parade since “most straight people don’t go.” Hmmm. Okay, first of all, I was not entirely sure her assertion was correct, considering she’s never been to one. Second of all, AND?
Not every white person chooses to celebrate Black History Month or join a Black Student Union, but some do. The March on Washington was an interracial effort. Fifty years ago, blacks and whites held hands as Dr. King spoke. Today, I choose to hold hands with gays. I may not completely understand the struggles homosexuals have, but I do understand the struggles and experiences that arise from being a member of an oppressed group in America.
I am an adult, and I can make my own decisions. I have made the conscious decision to stand beside the underrepresented and mistreated because standing behind them will not solve anything. We talk about acceptance and love for all people, yet when social activism is put in motion to support those who are suffering, some of us decide to fade into the background.
Part of growing up is deciding what is morally right. My interest in the GSA would be the catalyst of future conversations surrounding homosexuality and heterosexuality with my Mom. More discussions and arguments with references to the church, the virtues of religion, and the legitimacy of God would arise. My internal frustrations would continue to brew, my anger with organized religion and the hypocrisies of sacred texts would arise, my disgust with my Mother’s intolerance would grow, and society’s negative associations with the gay community would render a deep pit in my stomach. It has yet to go away.
I’m not proud of my anger and resentment. I understand not every person who practices an organized religion is a bigot. Despite my Mom’s condescending and ignorant comments, I love her dearly .(How can I not?) I am just sick of the intolerance — from her, from some of my peers, from strangers, conservatives, users on social media, protestors, and religious extremists. I want to challenge the status-quo; the “go-along-to-get-along” mentality that has helped fuel racism and the condemnation of homosexuality in the present day.
In the August 26 issue of Time, Michelle Norris described Dr. King’s work “aimed not just at dispossessed blacks but also at “do nothingism” among moderate whites who he said were “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.” Whether you choose to a) do nothing and let things proceed as they are, or b) actively work to maintain a system of inequality, is your prerogative. Just know both options only make it harder to instill the same rights for all.