This is part of our new series "Gen: Change," in partnership with Youth Service America, featuring stories from the 25 most influential and powerful young people in the world. Click here to read more about DeAndre and his amazing story.
It isn't easy. People think that the work we do is simple and anyone can do it. They think that it comes as quickly as the cashier handing you back change. They don't realize the dedication and love put into their everyday rights. They don't experience the true wrath of the struggle. All the while, we sit back and endure the backlash from both sides.
It all starts with an idea. In the depths of someone's mind, a great vision is nurtured and created. And just as it takes a village to raise a child, it will take a world to embrace this new vision. We're going through a second civil rights movement. There have been many small revolutions since the time of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his fight for African-American rights, but we have finally touched on a subject that affects the entire world. As we try to make progress here in America, we are simultaneously sending representatives to other countries and convincing them to make progress as well. In the time of "negroes" and "whites," we were focused on the integral rights. Now that we've switched our attention to "gays" and "straights," we're focusing on the comforts of being an American: marriage, job equality, resources and creating families.
What makes this fight so significant is that it affects so many people, spanning different cultures, ages and lifestyles. Being homosexual isn't a black or white thing -- it's everywhere and anyone. This wasn't always a public conversation, either -- whether you were or weren't gay was a fact that stayed out of the public eye. But today we openly admit to the world our sexuality and the struggles we endure, only to fall on many deaf ears. As for those who hear our cry? Some choose to help and make it easier day by day while some sit back and just change the channel. The reality of this entire situation is that the ones who are on the front lines fighting are often not even the ones who are truly affected. They've overcome the struggle and are trying to ensure that future generations don't have to. Those at the forefront of every battle are rarely doing it for themselves; No, they're doing it for the ones who will soon be in their place. They do it for the youth.
As a kid, you always go through the phase of "I'm going to be President." Our parents have instilled in us that we will be the next great leaders of our beloved country and we can make the world ours. What we don't realize at such a young age is that we don't need the $400,000 salary to make a difference -- although that is a great incentive -- but what we do need is an imagination and passion to make what we dream of a reality. What everyone else doesn't realize is that no fight is going to be won without the support of those you are fighting for, and in most cases, that's the youth. But how do you gain the support of a population that doesn't always see the struggle?
You can lead a horse to water but you cannot force it to drink, or so the saying goes. Similarly, you can tell a community that there is an issue, but that doesn't mean that they will see it or even do anything about it. Convincing the millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth that they are not legally equal to the rest of their heterosexual counterparts is not easy. You have to find an issue that they can relate to and build from there. Once you have their attention with one subject, such as the Proposition 8 campaign, you can lead them into other issues such as workplace discrimination, lack of resources and the many more issues that plague our community. Suddenly it causes a revolution that everyone wants to be a part of. Out of nowhere you have people who never cared before but have realized that they will be affected at one point in their lives.
Sometimes the people that need to truly fight for their rights are the ones who have not yet been affected: the youth. We're not so concerned with things such as taxes and debt just yet. We're focused on the stuff that matters to us -- living our lives as we want to. So rather than experiencing what our elders have gone through, we choose to fight and make sure that even if we aren't the ones who get to enjoy the fruits of accomplishment, we still have made a difference. People say that the youth have no power; I'm here, along with thousands of others, to say that we do. We have the power to start it, we have the power to support it, and we have the power to embrace it. It is change and so are we.