The past three years serving as president of the Young Democrats of America has been the most challenging and rewarding experience of my life. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a leader in the progressive youth movement at such a unique moment in our nation’s history. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished together, ensuring the Millennial Generation has an indelible impact on the political process for many years to come.
This week in San Antonio I will preside over my final YDA National Convention. While this isn’t the end of my political involvement, it marks the closure of this chapter in my career. But with only days left in my term, I’ve come to the realization that I have some unfinished business.
I’m proud of the work that YDA has done in recent years on LGBT rights, whether it was our fight for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” our push for employment non-discrimination laws at the federal and state levels, or the remarkable strides toward full marriage equality across the country.
But in the midst of all this historic progress, I’ve never taken the opportunity to tell my own story – that I am a Christian, an American, a West Virginian, a Young Democrat, a rural advocate, a singer-songwriter, a brother, a son, a grandson, a nephew, an uncle, and a gay man.
Growing up in a conservative Christian family in rural West Virginia, my own journey to a place of self acceptance has been a long and difficult one. Over the past two years, now in my early thirties, I’ve finally found the courage to look in the mirror and insist upon honesty and authenticity, overcoming so many negative messages I had internalized as a child and young adult. I’ve reached a place where I believe my story can help increase understanding, provide encouragement and be a catalyst for change.
While society is evolving at a breathtaking pace, there are still many places like my home state of West Virginia where I could be fired from a job or evicted from an apartment simply because of the person I love. I can’t sit by quietly and leave this fight for equality to others. This is my fight.
There are also young LGBT men and women across the country who aspire to careers in public service and need to know that they can achieve success in the political arena. I want to be an example of a leader who succeeds because of my honesty, not in spite of it.
And lastly, it’s important to note that I didn’t shed my faith when I embraced my sexuality. There is a significant conversation occurring within the church right now about the place of LGBT people in faith communities. While there should always be room for theological disagreements, this debate is too often grounded in deep misunderstanding, only perpetuated by a culture of shame and silence. We need more voices who can authentically bridge that divide.
I look forward to the day when emails, blog posts and public pronouncements like this one are no longer necessary. I am increasingly optimistic that future generations will not have to endure the internal conflict that I experienced in total isolation for so many years. But we are not there yet.
On Sunday in San Antonio, I will lower the gavel one last time and pass the baton to the next group of leaders in YDA with the assurance that our organization is on the right side of history, fighting for justice and equality for all Americans.
Robert F. Kennedy once said, “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events; and in the total, of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.” The LGBT rights movement is being written and advanced one personal story at a time – in living rooms and churches and schools and city halls and even the Supreme Court. Today I’m choosing to add mine to this long and courageous narrative. If my story changes even “a small portion of events,” then it is worth telling.
Young Democrats of America