My hero from

My hero from

Georgia isn’t known as a hotbed of LGBT activism. In
fact, northeastern Georgia isn’t known as a
hotbed of LGBT anything. It is where the movie
Deliverance was filmed, but I’m sorry, that just
doesn’t count.

Kerry Pacer would
be remarkable if she’d grown up in the Castro or
Chelsea or West Hollywood. The fact that she’s from
northeastern Georgia makes her all that much more

I grew up in a
small town in the South, so I know where Kerry is coming
from. Cultural diversity in places like where Kerry and I
grew up means there are Baptists and Methodists. The
very existence of LGBT people is completely effaced in
places like White County, Ga., where homosexuality is
still the love that dare not speak its name (at best) and a
one-way ticket to hell (at worst).

Kerry has forever
obliterated the denial that existed in White County and
places like it about LGBT people through her brave
leadership in taking on her school to start PRIDE
(Peers Rising in Diverse Education), a gay-straight
alliance. Their response was less than heartening—an
irresponsible, educationally indefensible decision to ban
all cocurricular student activities rather than allow
the PRIDE club to meet. The religious zealots won this
battle, but they lost the war, as the real enemy in
places like White County, Ga., is silence. Kerry broke that
silence for good.

Among the many
qualities that make Kerry special, two stand out to me
from the conversations we’ve had in person and on the
phone. The first is her complete certainty that she is
right. For so many people of my generation, we did not
find our voice or that sense of confidence until well
into our adult years. Kerry is crystal clear in her
convictions, and her own unwavering moral compass
stands in sharp contrast to the craven actions of
those who run her school system. The second is her boundless
optimism. At no point during this battle did I ever see
Kerry’s positive energy waver or her faith
falter. No setback slowed her down: She was always
moving on to the next step, always thinking strategically
about how to turn seeming defeat into an opportunity
to continue the fight. I’d bet the folks who
opposed her in White County still don’t know what hit

In many ways, it
is both awe-inspiring and overwhelming to think about
what Kerry has been able to accomplish while in high school.
But I know that Kerry didn’t do it all by
herself. She had the complete support of her family;
she built a circle of friends who stood by her; and she made
crucial alliances with folks like the American Civil
Liberties Union. In other words, Kerry Pacer is a
master organizer. Kerry is exceptional, but she would
be the first person to tell you she did not do it alone.

And indeed she is
not alone. Kerry is the face of a new generation of
activists, both LGBT and non-LGBT, coming of age in our
junior highs and high schools right now. At GLSEN I
have the privilege to work with nearly 80 students
around the country on GLSEN’s Jump-Start National
Student Leadership Team, and I firmly believe it is
because of young people like Kerry and the other
leaders of the 3,000-plus gay-straight alliances
across America that this will be the generation where
homophobia shifts from being something you experience
in the hallways to something you study in your history

Kerry Pacer is
one of my heroes. I am looking forward to seeing what she
does next, and to someday being an old man who can say
“I knew her when…”

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