I’ll admit that I’ve had to think about the answer to this question for a while. It didn’t immediately come to mind because the reason I fight for full LGBT equality has changed over the years.
When I was younger, I had no idea my father was gay and I fought my own homosexual urges with rampant internalized and externalized homophobia. It was the kind of homophobia that not even my father coming out to me when I was 15 could shake for a good long while. In fact, it took about two years before I could finally come to enough terms with my father’s sexuality to be supportive of him.
I spent a lot of time with my grandparents when I was a child, all the way up through my teenage years. Unfortunately, that meant I picked up on many of their attitudes toward homosexuality. Needless to say, that didn’t help me accept my father’s sexuality any more readily. Nor did it help me come to terms with my own inner demon.
I’ve often said and thought that I grew up in a different era. When I was a child, straight men or boys never complimented the looks of another man, not even with the tiresome “no homo” attached to the compliment. Even in my early college years, the lone exception to the no compliments rule was always Brad Pitt. He was about the only man on Earth about whom even straight men could wax poetic about his looks.
All of those factors contributed to my not being able to finally come out to myself until I was about 22. And then, it took about two years from that point for me to finally come out to my father and his partner. Fortunately, being the gay son of a gay father made my coming out experience almost funny. The last question my father asked was, “do you like Bette Midler?” When I answered yes, he said, “yep. He’s gay.” It was the first experience I had with coming out, but it certainly wasn’t the last humorous experience I had with it.
So where does this leave me and the fight for equality? About three years after I’d first learned my father was gay, I started becoming what I referred to as “the PFLAG kid.” If someone made a homophobic comment, I would challenge it. If someone told me to drop it, I’d refuse. I wrote an opinion piece in my community college’s student newspaper that supported then-President Clinton’s decision to fight for gays serving in the military. Even 18 years later, that still was one of the best pieces of writing I’d ever produced.
As I wrestled with coming out, I decided to gradually stick my toe in and come out to the University of Maryland campus. When I wrote a column in The Diamondback in the fall of 1999, I was nervous about being ostracized in the newsroom. I worried about receiving torrents of anti-gay hate mail. None of that happened. In fact, of all the stories or columns I’d written for The Diamondback from the early days of 1999 until 2000, the only piece that got a compliment from the editor in chief was that column. A few days later, one of the news editors asked me how I was doing, but did so in a way that clearly suggested he was asking how I was dealing with being out to the campus.
So why do I fight now? I fight because I want to live in a world where I can marry whom I want if and when I want. I want to live in a world where sexual orientation is no more of a big deal than what you chose to wear to school that day. I fight for my fellow LGBT people to have an easier road than I did. I fight for my straight friends who help our fight. I fight to educate those who need to learn. I fight to take away the fear that a simple compliment about a man’s attractiveness will be misconstrued, and that misunderstanding will cost me my life.