“The sexual orientation of my parents has had zero effect on the content of my character.”
That February night in 2011 was particularly cold. In the dark confines of my room, I watched as then-19-year-old Zach Wahls stood before the Iowa House of Representatives. Raised by two mothers, Wahls spoke out against the proposed House Joint Resolution 6, which would ban civil unions for same-sex partners in the state. His heartfelt speech unsettled me, as the concept of having to defend the legitimacy of his own parents seemed so degrading. Yet, his conviction and sincerity gave me a glimpse of hope for the future.
Nonetheless, his words were still too premature for the chamber, as it moved to pass the committee by a majority vote.
I turned off my computer, and the dimming of the screen was met by a frigid darkness.
Coming to understand my sexuality at the start of this decade was a particularly tumultuous circumstance. Relative to years past, great progress for the LGBT community had been made. Yet, like with many other struggles, as small strides toward justice commence, strong currents of pushback erupt.
As I began to develop what being gay meant to me, our nation began to develop what being gay meant for it. I knew each step toward acceptance of myself also came with an inherent loss: an inability to marry the person I loved, the inability to serve our country’s military and invitation to a newfound scrutiny.
I watched as national leaders warned of the dangers of “homosexuals,” expressing toxic rhetoric: “They are intolerant. They are hateful. They are vile …and are engaged…in an agenda that will destroy them and our nation.” I remember getting onto the school bus to hear the news that North Carolina voters passed Amendment One, banning same-sex marriage in the state. Despite my initial hurt, these events did not constantly reverberate in my thoughts.
But one thing I could not shake out of my mind were the words of Zach Wahls, specifically, “the content of (his) character.” This phrase, albeit simple, evoked the sentiment of civil rights activists also dedicated to a more perfect union. Maybe I saw myself in him – I saw someone I could maybe become one day.
Years have passed since those nights alone in my room, and much progress has come along with it. We have seen the enshrinement of marriage equality in our laws, the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and a surge in public support for LGBTQ rights.
Yet, during the midterm election on Nov. 6 midterm election, something felt different.
Finally, this abundant societal change became reflected in our nation’s representatives. In Colorado, we saw the election of Jared Polis, the nation’s first openly gay governor. In New Hampshire, two transgender women, Gerri Cannon and Lisa Bunker, won seats in the state House of Representatives. Sharice Davids, an openly gay candidate in Kansas, joined Debra Haaland of New Mexico as the first two Native American women elected to Congress. Voters in Massachusetts handily defeated a proposal to repeal transgender rights and protections. After almost a week delay, the state of Arizona will elect the nation’s first openly bisexual U.S. Senator. At the local, state and national level, a wave of LGBTQ candidates was voted into office.
There was one person also elected on Nov. 6 who, though not gay himself, allowed me to see just how far I—and this nation—have come. Zach Wahls, the once 19-year-old student who spoke in defense of his parents, was elected to the Iowa state Senate. In 2011, the people who he stood before may not have been ready, but finally, seven years later, the people of Iowa were.
So on a Tuesday evening seven years later, I again found myself in front of a screen, seeing the same man whose words I used to watch night after night in secrecy – and resignation. Except this time, that feeling of longing and sadness was replaced with hope. This time, the cold confines of my childhood bedroom were replaced with the comfort of friends, tightly packed onto a worn living room couch. Each one of our faces was marked with a cautiously optimistic glimpse of hope. And as each one of us stared at the screen, we were beginning to see people that looked just like us staring back.
Alex Kubie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.