Apr 19, 2015

Make Heard Our Voices

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Our journey was never about awards or accolades. As plaintiffs in one of the cases for marriage equality in Virginia, we simply wanted to stand up for our family and for the families of those represented under the class-action case. We know that it is through the sharing of our stories that we inch closer to realizing more fully the promise of equality made by our country’s Founders. I am very humbled to have been able to share my story with hundreds, if not thousands, of people in Virginia and beyond. To me, the greatest tool that has been gifted to those who seek change is their voice, and regardless of whether it is a roar or a whisper, your voice impacts the cascade of events that will allow us to realize equality in our lifetime.

Personally, my voice has been heard in the small circles of GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) clubs and among the crowds who have rallied for the cause. On a small scale, I have taken advantage of “teachable moments” to move the hearts of those who previously did not understand the reason marriage equality was so important. I’ve never dodged a chance to speak with those who meet me by chance or by choice, and I have continually encouraged others to use their voices to advocate for LGBTQ Virginians.

From time-to-time, those who use their voice to spur change are recognized for their efforts. For me, honors and awards are simply another tool that can be used to promote the cause. Following the receipt of the Democratic Community Action for Equality Award from the LGBT Democrats of Virginia last year, I shared news of the honor with members of my network, all the while carefully making sure those learning of the honor were aware that the award was connected to the advocacy that has become my life’s work. I shared the reasoning for our decision to make public our lives, and I expressed the real impact that marriage equality has on families like ours.

The story of my selection for the award and of the journey to gaining greater acceptance for our families was picked up for small feature in East Magazine, a publication produced by East Carolina University, the school from which I graduated in 2001. The feature referenced the award, but focused on the case and the impact that winning marriage equality has on our families. Subsequent to its release, I was nominated by a fellow alumnus for a Forty Under 40 Award from the university.

I attended the East Carolina University Student Affairs Corporate and Leadership Awards Banquet on April 11, 2015. Business leaders, honorees, school administrators, and others attended the banquet from North Carolina and beyond. As each honoree was called, an announcer relayed details of why the individual was selected from among all alumni under the age of 40. When my name was called, the announcer referenced my status as a plaintiff in a marriage equality case and stated that the school was recognizing my work to protect LGBTQ families. He also stated that I live my life by the fundamental belief that we are “all a lot more alike than we are different,” and that I believe equality is essential to realizing the full extent of what America can be.

I walked through the banquet tables to receive a small glass award, and nervously turned to face the audience who had just learned the justification for the honor the university was giving to me. Any fear I may have had that my assembled peers would reject me was relieved as soon as I turned. The guests smiled, applauded, nodded, and otherwise thanked me as I returned to my seat. The conclusion of the program provided me another opportunity for advocacy—for the use of my voice—on a small scale.

I participated in numerous conversations where I was able to take the focus off of me and the award and return it to the cause, where it belongs. I answered questions about how marriage equality impacts birth certificates and adoption. I relayed the story of how being able to file taxes as a married couple saved us thousands of dollars. I spoke about simple things like emergency contacts listed on hospital forms and complex things like eligibility for VA loans and other benefits. I used every opportunity given to express why people like us, members of organizations like the LGBT Democrats of Virginia, speak out and speak up. Every conversation was the indirect result of our receiving the Democratic Community Action for Equality Award, and every conversation is a seed planted, an idea that marriage equality matters.

I am honored to be a part of this organization and to continue the work we have before us. I encourage everyone to consider the small ways you can advocate for our families. I invite you to share your stories with us concerning your advocacy. Together, through personal one-on-one conversations, we are changing the world, and I look forward to experiencing the full promise of equality that will result from our work.