Op-ed: What I Heard Washington Lawmakers Say to Me
BY Advocate Contributors
February 09 2012 7:55 PM ET
When I was 14, everyone in my eighth-grade health class had
to say something nice about me. It was a requirement. To help distract from
bullying, middle school clique warfare, and everything in between, our health
teacher, Ms. Weldon, made the class participate in a self-esteem building
Ms. Weldon gave every student a piece of paper. She
instructed us to write down our full name, then pass our piece of paper to the
person on our right. Everyone wrote one good thing, anonymously, about the
student whose paper we held.
After the activity was completed and the papers had been
passed around the room 30 times until each was back with its original owner,
there was this indescribable energy. On my paper people had written things like
“You do your hair just perfect!” or “You’re so nice to everyone!” and “You’re
They were simple words, but I felt good about myself.
We all felt good about ourselves. Rarely do you get 30 compliments, all at once. I
felt valued and noticed. A big group of people had just told me, “Brook Ellen,
you’re all right.”
valued as an individual human being doesn’t happen every day in this world of
billions. But last week I was transported back to Ms. Weldon’s class because the Washington State Senate passed legislation to legalize same-sex
marriage. On Wednesday the same legislation passed the House in a 55-43
I feel like I just got 55 compliments, all at once.
After the legislation passed the Senate last week, my
partner, Emily, and I kissed in the street. Twice. In the same day. Like, big
kisses. Maybe this is the sort of thing my family, and maybe even Emily’s
family, wishes I wouldn’t talk about in The Advocate. Maybe it’s too much information, or it’s something
people don’t want to think about. Knowing we’re gay is one thing, seeing it is
On my Facebook news feed Wednesday, someone posted a
picture of a car. The car has a license plate that reads “BUTCH.” Several
people have commented on this picture, and one comment in particular reads,
“OMG Are you kidding me why would someone put that out there like that I don't
have a Problem with People and the Sexuality its there Prerogative but that is
just wrong ... ”
I promise I did not make this up. I am astounded that I saw
that comment on Wednesday, of all days. For some, it's "just wrong"
to "put that out there like that." As a lesbian, I am supposed to
hide and keep any and all rainbow stickers off my car too.
I’m not a huge fan of overwhelming public displays of
affection. People who are making out and grabbing each other’s asses are just
too much for me, gay or straight.
Emily and I keep it pretty mild in the public affection
department. We’ll put our arms around each other. We engage in occasional hand-holding. And if we’re in a booth together at our
favorite pub, we have no problem touching each other’s arms and sharing small
gestures of affection.
But kissing on the street, where people can see, makes me
nervous. I’m not too scared to do it, but I am still worried that something
might happen — dirty looks, people screaming “fag” as they drive by. Or worse,
we could be physically assaulted at random like the teenager in Atlanta earlier
this week who was attacked by a gang just for being gay. Maybe my insecurity
stems from irrational paranoia or my roots in the South, where it’s best to keep
things secret and swept under the rug where they belong. Kissing your same-sex
partner in public isn’t exactly conducive to that.
Not today, World, not today. Because today, 55 people said,
“Brook Ellen, you’re all right.”
The Washington State government told me I am valued. I am
noticed. I don’t have to be ashamed or feel nervous. I can be proud.
I’m proud of my healthy, fulfilling, loving relationship.
Emily is my best friend, my home, my everything. There will still be people out
there who wish to do the LGBT community harm and wish to strip away our rights.
I’m a lot of things, but I’m not naive.
But what happened in the Washington State House on Wednesday
is nothing short of remarkable. I never knew that the choices made by 55 people
had the potential to open a realm of honesty and openness that I didn’t realize
existed within me. I am truly grateful, profoundly touched, and hopeful that
Washington is only among the first of many votes to come nationwide that will
surprise other Americans like me who didn’t know what they were missing.
ELLEN WEST is a freelance writer living in Tacoma, Wash. She maintains a personal blog called Flapjacks and French
Ladies. West loves talking in third person, and you can follow her on
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