As an 18-year-old, like many other college students, gay or straight, getting married or starting a family are not high up on my "to-do" list and won't be any time soon. But unlike most straight couples my age, my girlfriend and I do think about these things simply because we, and other same-sex couples, can't do them.
For the past few years I have been working as an LGBT advocate on issues like bullying, marriage equality and health care for LGBT families because everyone should have the freedom to marry the person they love and have the ability to raise a family. Someday I will want to be able to do this and right now, in my home state, Michigan, I couldn't.
I grew up living with my mom, my dad, my grandma and my little sister. We went to church every Sunday when I was little, my sister and I took dance classes and figure skating lessons, my mom was involved with everything I did in school and I had plenty of friends. My family is extra loving and my parents encouraged my sister and I to do anything we ever wanted to.
Being gay was never really something we talked about at home, we didn't have any gay or lesbian friends or family members, but as far back as I can remember my mom always told me everyone was equal no matter what. She would say it doesn't matter what color someone's skin is or what religion they are or who they love, everyone deserves to be treated equally. For a long time I didn't really know what she meant so I rolled my eyes and nodded my head and said, "Okay, Mom."
When I was in middle school I had a crush on a girl. I told my best friend and she told the rest of the school. I was bullied on a daily basis for something I was taught didn't matter. I didn't want to go to school because I (and my work) suffered, to say the least. One day a few guys came up behind me while I was putting my books in my locker. They called me names and asked me why I even bothered to show my face at school because no one wanted to go to school with a lesbian. I tried to ignore them because I was afraid of what might happen if I stood up to them. When I went to leave, they pushed me against the wall. Then they slammed my locker shut on my hand, breaking my finger. I held back tears while I watched them run away laughing. I kept it to myself because I didn't know whom I could talk to about being gay.
I didn't tell my parents about what happened because I was afraid of what they might think and who they might tell. I didn't know of any other lesbian students and there were no out lesbian adults in my community so I felt alone and I had no resources to go to for help. After 8th grade my parents moved me to a private school because, even though they didn't know why, they could see I was miserable.
At my new school I met a lesbian for the first time in my life. And not just one -- I had found a whole community including an out teacher. These people became my support system, kind of our own little family. With their help I gained the courage to come out to my parents just before turning 16. My parents were both as loving and accepting as anyone could be. The bravery I learned from my new found friends not only helped me in being comfortable with myself but it also gave me the strength to speak out and stand up for what I believe in. With the support of my family I was able to start and win multiple anti-bullying and LGBT equality campaigns from anti-bullying legislation to the availability based on the rating of the documentary film Bully. After being seen as a national activist doing simple things, that still matter so much in the fight to bring equality to the LGBT community, like going to prom with my amazing girlfriend Maddie or holding her hand in public, seem so easy to me but I know they wouldn't feel so trivial if I didn't have the love and acceptance from my family.
I am so thankful for have the family I have and the love and support that they give me. I couldn't be living in New York and going to college next year without the support from my wonderful family. This past year my mom even traveled the country with me during a two-month period where I was advocating for anti-bullying and LGBT equality campaigns, but it truly shows how much she accepts and loves who I am when she does little things like invite my girlfriend, Maddie, to dinner or come to gay pride events with me. Not every young person has a family that loves, supports, or even accepts them, so I do know how lucky I am.
I don't know if I could ever raise a family of my own someday that is as loving, caring and encouraging as the family I have right now, but I at least want the freedom to try, and with the examples and support of my parents, my grandma and my sister I think it's a possibility.
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