I am not gay. As a non-gay person who supports gay marriage and gay rights, I have seen things changing for the better. The recent Supreme Court decisions knocking out the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 are exciting and have us, as a country, heading in the right direction.
I am also not naïve. I am not blind. I see enough to know that things still are not easy for my gay friends. But because I do not live their experience every day, I sometimes forget. I forget that it can be a daily struggle to feel accepted by others. I forget that it can be a daily struggle for them to accept themselves. I forget that they do not have all the rights and benefits that I, as a straight person, have. I forget that they struggle to have their families accepted as "normal" by whomever thinks they have the right to define "normal."
Recently I have gone through a period in my life in which people have said negative things about me that are not true. I spoke to my friend Morgan Reid during a time when I was struggling with worry about what people thought of me. Morgan, at the ripe old age of 20, taught me what it means to be brave.
Morgan is from Pensacola, Fla. Pensacola, ironically, hosts one of the most well-attended pride weekends every Memorial Day weekend, but it remains one of the most conservative areas of the country, both politically and religiously.
So when Morgan came out in high school, not only did her family struggle with reconciling their faith with her sexual identity, but she struggled with it as well.
"My family went through phases," she told me. "There was crying. They were very emotional. My parents are very religious, so they didn't know how to fit it in with how they saw my life. They weren't really sure how to handle it, so we fought a lot." Fortunately, Morgan's parents are now completely supportive and were very welcoming to her ex-girlfriend. "They are pretty good, but it took time," she said."
Morgan admits that she had to work through how her faith and her life fit together. Throughout her life she had been taught in Sunday school that homosexuality is wrong, and she had a vision of gays as big, burly, sharp-toothed men trying to get little children. While her parents have not discussed how or if they have reconciled their faith with Morgan's sexual orientation, Morgan has reconciled it for herself.
"I have been through a lot of theories on it," she explained. "My perspective is I have been a Christian my whole life. I have been a committed Christian. I dedicated my life when I was 13. I have been in church my whole life, and one thing they always told me was that God loves you, and God created you, and God doesn't make mistakes. For a while I thought I was a mistake and he cursed me. Now I see it as a gift, because I am able to talk to people that are totally against it. Because of the religious aspect, there is so much hatred from that side, because people don't understand it. I am not really sure how I feel about the scripture parts of it, but I know that God loves me, and that this is part of his plan, and He made me a lesbian. So part of it is talking to people and letting them know God loves them. I feel like this is just another part of it for me."
Despite her own struggle with acceptance, living in an area of the country that is not accepting, and being only 20 years old, Morgan wants to get involved in the political dialogue.
"I feel like it is really important, because I know if anyone is facing coming out, it's hard when you live in a country that isn't as accepting as it should be," she told me. "And if [young people] are anything like I was at their age, information is really important."
There are days when Morgan feels empowered, and there are days when she feels discouraged.
"Some days I feel like it's great and I'm doing an awesome job and making a difference," she said. "And some days it's like, 'Ah, man, I'm never going to win.'" She added, "It's not always fun, but I don't feel burdened. I feel like people have to fight for a lot of different rights. There's always going to be something to fight for, and I just think it's worth it."
Growing up in a smaller, conservative town has fostered Morgan's desire to get involved. She began with her own high school when she petitioned to get a book that was positive about gay marriage put back in the library after it was removed.
"At Milton High School, specifically, there was a book that was taken off the shelves," she explained. "We petitioned to get it back on the shelves. It was a book talking about gay marriage, and not in a negative context. There was a different, really old book that is still on the shelves that calls [being gay] a mental disorder, and that's been disproved for years. They had taken the book calling it acceptable off the shelves and left the negative one."
Morgan believes that being politically active and letting others, especially young people, know that you are there helps with acceptance.
"I feel like people don't know," Morgan said. "As soon as young people know you are out, they kind of cling to you. They will find you on Facebook, or call you because they don't know who else to ask. When you are getting information out there, you are letting them know that it is not as taboo as everyone thinks."
Morgan said that in her high school, when she came out, teachers became less interested in her plans, her future and who she was. Before that, she was a favorite among teachers.
"It is a struggle," she said. "I think a lot of people don't see it that way, but I think the gay community does. Really, the only difference between a heterosexual couple and a gay couple is that they have the same parts or different parts. The love is still there. The family is still there."
Morgan thinks that the more familiar people become with gays and the less of a taboo subject it becomes, the more things will change.
"I'm pretty sure when you meet someone, you think of them as a human being, but when you don't know someone, you don't have to," she said.
The changes in Washington, D.C., with the recent Supreme Court decisions give Morgan hope.
"I thought I was always going to be on the outside, that people weren't going to look at me with any kind of sense of worth," she revealed. "I immediately felt stigmatized after coming out. You are not really a Christian anymore. You are not really worthy of all of these great things. You have to work harder for it, and I guess that's not a bad thing. But I guess passing these bills makes me aware that I am not the only one, and that people aren't all the Milton, Pace, Pensacola community, that everyone won't look at me the way some people here will. There is a part of the world out there that will see me as a human being that has potential and has the right to be me and not hate me for it."