Not too long ago, Florida was no different than any other state when it came to same-sex marriage; Not gonna happen. In fact, knowing that a verbal assault from a street preacher could be just around the corner, it seemed rather unlikely that the state would even consider civil unions. Today, that changed. Florida ushered in a whole new era of acceptance and unity by becoming the 36th state to approve marriage equality. 2008’s ban be damned. Oh, and Pam Bondi, too.
Growing up in Dade City (Dead City to those that experienced it), I spent most of my tween, to teen years in a personal hell. Middle school and high school were where I experienced some of the worst moments of my life. Not a day went by where my sexuality wasn’t a device of torment for the student body to use against me. For someone who didn’t even begin to think of their preference until 16, it was frightening to think that I could be this thing that everyone clearly hated so much. Looking back, I attribute my late coming out not only to fear of what others would think, but also the fear of proving all those hateful people right.
Now that I’m older, I’ve had people ask me about whether I wanted to get married, or not. I always joked about it being an impossibility, because of the law, but even outside of that fact, it wasn’t something that I even considered before. It wasn’t up until I heard the all clear by the Supreme Court that I began giving it some thought. And then it hit me. I had been unwittingly molding my own life choices around those that would call me a sinner. The reason I hadn’t thought about it was because it was illegal. Illegal. Let that sink in. It was punishable by law for me to marry someone I love. Yet again, I had let the views of a few hateful people dictate my way of thinking.
I’ve always kind of floated between two worlds. I was never really grounded in the straight world, but never really found a place within the LGBTQ community either. That isn’t to say that I don’t believe in the values of the community, or that I don’t follow and support many of the issues that we face, or that I don’t approve of their choices of expressing their identities. But in terms of LGBTQ events, I was always left disinterested (and even broke a pinky promise to go to Pride. Sorry Hunter!) To me, being gay didn’t mean I was a part of the community. I was just gay. Well…insert epiphany #3.
As I stood in Joe Chillura Courthouse Square today, watching Pat Frank preside over the ceremony of countless same-sex couples, I finally felt it. My spine tingled. My heart raced. And suddenly, I was smiling. This is my community. We are all the same. At the end of the day, all we want is for our love to be accepted, and to be recognized as human beings capable of sharing that love. Those are such basic requests that it’s beyond shameful that they’ve been denied for so long. Being there to experience such an outpouring of love by cheering onlookers, and seeing the tears of joy being wiped from everyone’s faces made me realize that, in my mind, being part of the LGBTQ community had become synonymous with fear. Of what? You got it. Hateful people.
It seems odd to me, that being almost 30, I would allow myself to fall victim to such simple-minded assassinations on my happiness. What have I missed out on, because I was too scared? What chances have passed me by, because I feared the judgment? I had developed into someone who thought they had survived the system, but, until recently, I didn’t realize just how damaged I truly was. Words mean something. Especially when they’re etched into law. Let it be known, for all future generations, that January 6th, 2015, Florida became the 36th state to legalize same-sex marriage. Marriage equality is real. Equality is real. You are loved. You can love.
Photos by Désirée Fantal