Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Going Back to High School… as a Marriage Equality Advocate

By Andrew Eddins
Freelance Contributor, Freedom to Marry
June 24, 2009

I recently returned to my high school. Not literally, but electronically. An old friend from school days contacted me on Facebook and we struck up a conversation. The funny thing about speaking with a high school friend after thirty odd years is that it not only transports you back to where you knew each other, it transports you back to the age you were then.

I’m not someone with any particularly heavy baggage from my adolescent years. I had a happy (though closeted) middle-class upbringing in Oneonta, New York, a small town located about halfway between Albany and Binghamton. I studied hard, was active in sports and clubs, had a few good friends, and looked forward to the future. After graduating high school, I went to college out of state and then moved to New York City, where I’ve lived ever since.

My adult gay life has personally been largely untouched by bigotry or hostility. I’ve shared many happy years with my partner, and we’re supported by a diverse network of friends and family. I’m comfortable in my own skin and seldom give a thought to my sexual orientation or being accepted. No one cares.

It turned out my high school friend was an expert on astronomy and tennis - two things that interest me greatly - so we got an active dialogue going right away. I had initially been squeamish about Facebook high school reunions, but this was actually fun.

Around this same time, California was re-deciding on Prop 8, and many in the LGBT community – including me – were getting increasingly agitated. Drunk with the power of my Facebook soapbox, I began posting pithy pro-marriage equality editorial items and video links. One minute I’d be sharing pictures of the new azalea bushes my partner and I planted in front of our co-op, and the next I’d be posting a Kate Clinton video screaming (make that speaking forcefully – Kate doesn’t scream) about the injustices faced by the LGBT community. “Hey, it’s a free country and if you don’t like my Facebook page you don’t have to go there” – so said my forty-something brain.

Then one day I noticed the conversation with my high school friend had abruptly stopped – on his turn. At first I didn’t give it much thought. With the Prop 8 decision going the wrong way and the Obama administration starting to hedge about DOMA and DADT, I had other issues. As the weeks went by, though, it really started to bother me that I’d apparently been dropped. My re-activated eighteen-year-old brain started to whisper thoughts like, “He was probably turned off by your gay activism,” or “You should never have opened yourself up to rejection.” My rational adult self knew these ideas were unfounded, but my younger self would not be quiet.

Thankfully this absurd “he’s just not that into you” scenario was ended when I heard back from my friend. He apologized for having been out of touch, explaining that he’d had both professional and family crises going on. He shared some more tennis chat and then mentioned he’d noticed my marriage equality postings. He said he agreed with the concept of equal access to marriage for all – though having recently been divorced, he joked the abolition of marriage might be the kindest way to level the playing field. He also mentioned he had forwarded my postings to other high school classmates who still live in upstate New York since he knew a vote on marriage rights was coming up in the New York State Senate. Fantastic! Not only was he on board with my cause – he’d taken action.

Emboldened, I reached out to other old friends – some via Facebook, some via email addresses. I even wrote (with a pen!) to some of my parents’ old friends who still live upstate, knowing that senior citizens are an important group to win over. All the people I reached out to responded positively and offered to help. I spread the mantras: Write Your State SenatorContact PeopleStart a Conversation!

So I went back to high school - with all its insecurities, anxiety, and need for approval - and came through unscathed. It was actually good for me to remember how it felt to be a young gay person trying to make his way in a rural, conservative environment. I won’t take my urban adult life with its freedoms, comfort, and support system for granted again anytime soon. Best of all, I did something to help mobilize support for marriage equality in a part of the state that needs it.

I strongly urge each of you who is in favor of freedom and equality to step out of your comfort zone and strike up conversations with friends you may not have spoken to in years – maybe all the way back to high school. Tell them why marriage equality matters. They may be more sympathetic to the cause than you think - your perspective and insights will personalize the issue for them. Oh…and if you should run into your younger self out there on memory lane, try to be compassionate. He or she may be a little insecure and try to talk you into being quiet. Take charge and explain there’s a great life ahead with full marriage equality on the way - thanks in part to the future you taking action!

No comments: