Note: For identification purposes only, Maya Rupert is the federal policy director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
It's been a while since I signed a yearbook, so please bear with me. I'm trying to remember yearbook etiquette. (Is it still cool to use bubble letters? Was it ever?) I'm also repressing the urge to fall back on old clichés, so I'm going to try to avoid (though I will likely fail) telling you to "have an awesome summer" and "keep in touch."
Because it's Pride Month, instead, I think I'll start like this:
I am incredibly proud of you.
Getting through high school is hard. Getting through high school when you're different, in a time when that difference leaves you open to being teased, harassed, bullied, and tormented, can be devastating, and it can be dangerous. We've lost too many young people to suicides directly related to the constant bullying they faced just for being who they are. These losses are tragic and senseless, and something must be done.
But you know what has inspired me every time I'm just about to lose hope? You. Each time I think that you cannot possibly have one more fight left in you, you remind me that this generation's capacity for greatness may simply be beyond measure. In the face of overwhelming odds, you respond to those fighting to keep you down by standing up; by fighting for your rights; by proudly asking your girlfriends and boyfriends to prom; by reclaiming your religion; by coming as you are for your senior pictures; by standing by each other's sides; by being fierce and amazing and unbelievably strong.
I wish you didn't have to be strong. It's not fair that you have to be strong. We owe you a world where you don't have to be strong just to be who you are.
I'm not just going to tell you it gets better (though, for what it's worth, I promise you it does). Instead I want to focus on the work being done to make it better.
There are two bills you need to know about. The Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act, both of which have been introduced in Congress, would create the first comprehensive anti-bullying protections on the federal level. They would protect all students in our public schools, so that students would no longer be targeted for bullying, harassment, or violence at school for being LGBT or perceived to be LGBT. These bills are a crucial part of things getting better for LGBT youth all over the country. That's why it is so important that President Obama endorsed both of these bills as a part of his ongoing commitment to making things better for young people like you.
President Obama has proven that he is dedicated to protecting your rights, and I hope you know how significant it is to have a president who's got your back. Since taking office, President Obama hosted the first-ever White House Conference on Bullying Prevention, as well as a conference specifically dedicated to the topic of creating safe schools and communities in the LGBT community, and he and many people in his administration sent messages to you through the It Gets Better campaign.
I'm sure you heard that President Obama recently made news when he affirmed his personal support for marriage equality. I want you to remember where you were when you heard about that, because one day someone your age will be reading about that moment in history class. The tide is truly changing, and you're getting to watch your own history unfold, so enjoy it, and be a part of it.
Please go register to vote, right now. For many of you, this upcoming election will be your first time voting. Cherish it, because one day you'll be busy with life, and voting will just seem like one more thing you have to do on a Tuesday. It's not. It's one of the most amazing privileges you'll ever have the chance to exercise. Your leaders are asking you what kind of world you want to live in. And your choice is clear.
You deserve a president who thinks your safety in school is important and that bullying is wrong. You deserve a president who thinks you have a right to be who you are, and love whom you love, and make a family, and make a living and a home free from discrimination. You deserve a president who thinks your well-being, your life, and your future are important and need to be protected.
This election matters for the simple fact that you matter.
You've worked hard to get where you are, so please don't forget to enjoy it. Celebrate yourselves -- your fierce, amazing, and strong selves. I'll be celebrating you. Have fun. Be proud. Then go off and be incredible. We all can't wait to see the ways you wind up changing this world.
In other words, congratulations, class of 2012. Have an awesome summer. And please do keep in touch. I really mean it.