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Learning the
truth at 17

Learning the
truth at 17


I debated what song from my younger days might best express the earthshaking importance of what was accomplished by Kerry Pacer, The Advocate's Person of the Year for 2005, and her allies at White County High School in rural Georgia. First to mind: Janis Ian's potent "At Seventeen": "I learned the truth at 17 / That love was meant for beauty queens." It's also got that great line about how "small-town eyes will gape at you / In dull surprise." Hmm. Could be.

Or maybe something perkier, like the Waitresses' ode to high school misfits, "Square Pegs" ("I'd like it if they liked us / But I don't think they like us").

Or I could point out how far we've come in 32 years by quoting Elton John's 1973 song "All the Young Girls Love Alice," which dooms its 16-year-old lesbian protagonist to being found "last the subway dead." Or perhaps bring up Fred Phelps's White County protest and call the column "The Devil Went Down to Georgia."

This was going nowhere. Fact is, I have no personal cultural context for understanding the life of a 17-year-old lesbian in rural Georgia who never questioned her right to equal protection. Who never hated herself because she was attracted to other girls instead of guys. Who came out at age 12 to her unwaveringly supportive family. Is there a Kanye West song I'm not familiar with that captures the spirit of a small-town gay girl from the Bible Belt who's on the fast track to changing the world?

What Kerry represents is mind-boggling for us older folks: a generation for whom sexual identity is largely a nonissue.

For me, The Advocate's Person of the Year should fulfill a couple of criteria: She or he should be someone who accomplished something remarkable, something that only that person could have done, and whose actions were driven by heart and soul, not just strategic calculation. Second, he or she should be someone who symbolizes a cultural shift, a "hot spot" in the battle for gay and lesbian equality. Who this year should join the company of V. Gene Robinson, Rosie O'Donnell, Mark Bingham, Tony Kushner, and Donna Red Wing? When associate news editor John Caldwell nominated Kerry Pacer, everything just clicked. (Musical cue: "I believe our children are the future...")

The editorial staff unanimously supported her selection.

The power of what Kerry and thousands like her have done--forcing high schools and parents to see LGBT kids who are, above all, just kids--goes beyond changing laws and enforcing fairness. Adolescent experiences reverberate throughout every adult's life the way all those songs from my youth play endlessly through my head. Adolescence is the backdrop against which the rest of our lives play out, whether we're obsessed with trying to escape it, to relive it, or to fulfill it. Thanks to gay-straight alliances in thousands of schools across America, millions of American young people are coming of age amid the harmless reality of diversity. Yes, some will cling to old prejudices. But most will move into adulthood humming a new tune.

It's a song that's still being written.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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