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I Would Choose to Be Myself

“Be the change you wish to see in the world”
-Gandhi

I wish to influence equal rights, fair treatment and the importance of safety for everyone regardless of a person’s social identity in order to create a country of respect, understanding and success. If I could choose to be anyone who has been politically active I would choose to be myself. I admire and have learned from many who have been politically active to affect change in the world, but I would choose to be me so I can let my voice be heard on behalf of others.

About a year ago the Michigan State Legislature proposed an anti-bullying bill. Only minutes before scheduled for a vote language permitting bullying based on a “strong religious or moral conviction”-later to be known as the “license for bullying”- was added into the bill. When I heard about this bill that protected bullies, I was furious because I was bullied and physically injured in middle school due to my sexual orientation. I took action, traveling to the State Capitol to lobby for removal of the offensive language. Through my lobbying efforts in Lansing I met Emily Dievendorf, Director of Policy at Equality Michigan, who helped me share my own bullying story through an online petition that received over 56,000 signatures and eventually resulted in Michigan lawmakers reconsidering their word choice for the bill.

While working with Emily and Equality Michigan, my love for political activism, something I had never considered before, was sparked. I loved what Emily stood for, how she conducted herself, her goals and her willingness to work hard to achieve them. I told her one day, after multiple meetings to lobby our representatives, that when I grew up I wanted her job! She laughed and told me I could have it because I was already on my way. I smiled but I wondered how she could think at seventeen I was already on my way to doing such amazing work. Then I realized that the majority of her success came from being herself, showing the world that she is proud of everything that makes her who she is and most importantly teaching other people, like me, to do just that because that is truly how change is implemented.

In the past year I have been practicing what Emily taught me and I have been able to make a small difference because I am proud of who I am. I successfully lobbied for the removal of the offensive language from Michigan's anti-bullying bill. In a nationwide campaign that saw me travelling to New York City, Los Angeles and Washington DC and doing interviews on CNN, ABC, MSNBC and various other national media outlets, I successfully convinced the Motion Picture Association of America to change the rating of the film BULLY from R to PG13, making this important film more accessible to those who need to see it. In response to my publicly asking President Obama to wear purple on October 19th to support LGBT suicide awareness and prevention, the White House webpage was turned purple. And recently, I have been working with Representative Mike Honda of California to create a national anti-bullying bill.

I’ve shared my story about being bullied for who I am many times and I’ve told the world that I was done staying quiet because I am proud of everything that makes me who I am. The people who listened gave me the political stage I needed to make a difference. Through my online petitions, media, and social networking I was able to inspire millions of people, the way Emily inspired me, to make a change by simply showing people that you are not afraid to be yourself.

Like Emily, the kind of change I want to implement won’t come from just making laws or policy changes though that is extremely important. My goal is to influence society to ensure equal rights and fair treatment for everyone, creating a safe and secure environment in this country for all, fostering respect and understanding, thus providing the opportunity for everyone to find success and happiness. This change has to come from a shift in climate around homophobia, racism, sexism, ability status and every other basis of discrimination and false justification for unequal treatment. I have been able to share the message of how important it is to be yourself that Emily shared, through example, with me. So, while I greatly admire her, I do not wish to be Emily Dievendorf. I want to be myself because I have learned that I have been and will continue to be the change I wish to see in the world, and that alone will be my catalyst for change.



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