It Gets Better

So the following is a speech I gave just yesterday. See, everywhere I go I have this insatiable need to feel involved and make a difference, which considering this blog shouldn’t be too much of a surprise (if it is I’m doing something wrong…). When I started at a new college just weeks ago, I became immediately involved with their Queer Straight Alliance, and signed up to give a speech. See, the movement of It Gets Better has been something catching on with the faculty and even some of the students at my new school, and they’re using it to bring awesome things like Safe Space to the campus and ultimately make the school more gay and general diversity friendly.

As somebody transferring in from another school, I felt like I had a unique take, one that was important to this school’s attempts to improve, and I feel its best explained in the speech so I’ll just let it go.

It started for me in Fall 2008. I had been going to American River College for two years, and it had been a generally happy experience. Nothing in life is perfect of course, but I had great, accepting, and diverse friends. I was beginning to discover who I was. I had even fallen in love. I loved ARC for everything it was offering me, and would continue to offer me.

I would have never guessed how different my path would be by the end of that semester.

Fall 2008 was my first election, and also my first election controversy. It turned out that this school I loved going to, this school that made me feel accepted like nowhere ever had before, had a student government that felt I was an abomination to God. This student government felt that their time in power wasn’t best spent contributing to an amazing on-campus environment, but rather using their power to state that all 40,000 students endorsed Proposition 8, without our vote or consent.

The council meeting when they passed this bill sticks in my mind. It was ultimately my first impression of something I would be involved with for years, and it was a hell of a first impression. At least a hundred, more like two hundred people, crammed inside a lecture hall, with a speaker’s line nearly going out of the building. Some agreed with Prop 8, some disagreed with Prop 8, some were themselves in gay marriages threatened by this Proposition, some ultimately felt no matter what their opinions were that it wasn’t the business of the school to make such a statement.

It went on for hours.

It wasn’t until the end, however, that we learned together that while we felt our speaking was important, that to them it was a cute little show. In the end, no matter what we said, they had made up their minds weeks ago when the bill was written, and it passed.

The passing of the bill resulted in banners that read “ARC students endorse Prop 8” that I was forced to see at gay rallies for a long time; a disappearing of school funds that seemed to reappear at anti-gay marriage events; and a change in the feel of a campus that once made me feel so at home.

I didn’t think much of the impact of the bill on my life, until my friend Cody was followed off campus and beaten by two men (and by “men” I mean “prejudiculous wimps”) wearing the infamous shirts “Love Jesus, Hate Evil.” He was attacked so severely, that his once broken ribs still ache with certain movements. I truly believe that were it not for the interference of a stranger that my friend would have been killed, and in having to think back on these events for this speech, I’ve found myself as a non-religious person repeatedly praying that this total stranger is doing well.

A week or so later, after my friends adopted the buddy system, the same prejudiculous wimps went after Cody’s peer guardian. Fortunately for the peer, he carried a baseball bat in his car. It was the last attack made on anybody close to Cody.

Despite the ceasing of the attacks, the feel of the campus did not feel less oppressive, especially when a month or so later, the school paper argued, “there was no police report filed of a hate crime on or near ARC; therefore, no person was attacked for their sexual orientation.” A word of wisdom, victims of crimes often don’t go to the police for a number of reasons. Apply that statement to a rape, and maybe it will become crystal clear if it isn’t already what upset so many of us about it.

The school had a vibe like you should be always looking over your shoulder. Do these people know I’m gay? Do these people know I hang out with gay people? Would they hit a girl? How far would they follow me?

It made me get involved. I had to.

A group of us, we knew we had to fight for things to get better on our campus, to restore it to anything like it was before. Personally I knew that, even though I had no history of wanting to be in politics, I had to put my name out there and run. We knew that, if we didn’t work against this, entropy would set in and things would just get worse.

It took many failures, it took many mistakes, it took many moments of defeat and for me, it took many tears, but by the end of that school year we had council, and by the time it had been a year since the last council passed its Prop 8 endorsement, we had retracted it and made it illegal to pass resolutions on social politics.

I seriously wish the story ended there; because, for the masses, it did … kind of. I still hear people when I go over there say things like, “you can’t be out here. It’s not safe.” But I haven’t heard of another violent hate crime related to that campus, and the group that was causing the problems before has gone.

There is still, however, an issue of bullying.

The council changed from a group of people who judged groups for being too against God, into a group of people who became elitists who judged people, particularly females, for their perceived flaws. The few who became the “new leaders” became backstabbers who in many ways tore apart what became my second family. They took this small student government and made it the highlight of their lives, The Most Important Thing They Would Ever Do. I think many of us here know, life doesn’t peak at one’s education, it peaks at what you do with it.

The specific memory I have is of my contribution to ARC, it’s annual Haunted Festival. I was told from the start that I would never do it, I didn’t know what I was doing, and they would like to hire an outside source. When I said “no way,” they intentionally sabotaged any work I did on it until they hired somebody else, the President even going as far as to sit in on my meeting, watch me gather my item list from my volunteers, and then decree, “I don’t know why you’re doing it, these people aren’t going to do their share.” Not only did my volunteers not bring their stuff, they stopped bringing themselves, too.

It’s gotten so bad, that just in this last semester, a guy who used to be my friend transited all the way from his school, Berkeley, to run this guy’s council President campaign against my friend, against his own friend. Why? Because she’s a pear shaped girl. And, I theorize, that he took an online class at ARC while at Berkeley because he knew he was going to do this in response to her running.

How does this relate? I feel that, in their own way, they became what they hated. Oh, yeah, and the total sexism.

So I’m going to close my time here with an expanded modification of Dan Savage’s excellent step one.

I think that every person on this planet has the strength, whether they know it or not, whether they feel it comes from their selves, their friends and family, or their God, to change the world. And that’s work that needs to be done to improve civil rights in the world. However, I feel that has to start with keeping yourself in check. If you crave to be accepted for whom you are, accept people for whom they are first. If you want a happy life, wish a happy life upon others. It does get better, but not without upkeep and flat out work.

If any local peers happen to stumble upon this blog, they’ll know who I am and my opinions instantly. So it goes.

Anyway, hope you all have a good weekend! I’m still feeding off the energy of how amazing it felt to share my story to an audience, and how confident I felt doing it. Hope it’s an opportunity I’ll get again.


~ by Stefani Vonne on 04/29/2011.

One Response to “It Gets Better”

  1. […] It Gets Better […]

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