Anybody who knows me at Penn State will tell you that I’m outspoken. I’m a diehard supporter of LGBT rights, and I can typically be found entrenched in a debate about gender equality or waist deep in research on religious discrimination.
I didn’t always have that rep though. I was known for being a talkative child, but not for being the outspoken advocate that I try to be today. If you’re wondering how that changed, it’s pretty simple: I was raised by two moms.
Like most kids, I spent my early childhood without worrying about what was “normal” or “abnormal.” I had my mom, dad, and little sister, and that was that. My world shifted however when I reached the fourth grade and my parents divorced; my mom, sister, and I moved in with Tara, who has since become another mother to me. My new home and family were huge changes for me – I didn’t always handle myself very well, but never once did I find it weird or unusual that my mom had moved in with another woman. I became accustomed to referring to my parents as “my moms,” and I don’t remember a single time in elementary or middle school when anybody challenged me about why I phrased it that way.
High school was a different story. I spent my freshman year at Conwell-Egan Catholic High School, and I was hit by the reality of prejudice in a way I had never experienced before. Many of my teachers voiced their opinions that homosexuality was a sin, and that two people of the same gender could not properly raise a family together. I was surprised by the harshness of their words, and angry that nobody was standing up to challenge their hateful message.
One day, about halfway through the year, I reached my breaking point. I remember sitting there in my blue uniform and knee high socks, thinking “Why isn’t someone saying anything?? Why doesn’t someone speak out?” Then it occured to me, “I need to do it.” I was terrified to speak out about something the adults in my school disagreed with, but I was tired of being silent. I raised my hand, feeling small. I explained to Mr. Papirio, my history teacher that our class lovingly dubbed Papi, that I didn’t believe the church could tell us who we can or can’t love; I shared that I was raised by two women, and expressed that I felt lucky to be part of such a loving family. I challenged my teacher to find something about my upbringing that made me different from the rest of the class. When I finished, I expected Mr. Papirio to argue with me, to tell me why I was wrong. I sat there, shaking in my hideous saddle shoes, waiting for an argument. Instead, he thanked me for sharing my story, and told me that I had shaken his perspective. I was taken completely by surprise, but his reaction helped me build the courage I have needed to keep fighting for my strongest beliefs.
Looking back, that day changed my life. The simple act of standing up in Papi’s class, of voicing my belief in my parents and in equality regardless of sexuality – it redefined my world view and set me on a path to a career in LGBT advocacy. It made me the outspoken and passionate young woman I am today, and made me more confident as a friend, an ally, and an advocate. I don’t expect to change the minds of everybody I meet, but I do believe in the power of speaking out for equality – it empowers the world to be a better place.