As a new, non-tenure track instructor at the University of Minnesota at Crookston in 1998-1999, I was enthusiastic and devoted to students. So when a couple of them stopped by my office and asked me to be the faculty advisor to their newly developed group, I was more than happy to help. Plus, it was the LGBTQ group, which we named UMC’s Ten Percent Society, and since college I have tried to work toward social justice, especially in this arena.
This was shortly after the murder of Matthew Shepard, and I was heartsick at his story. I worried about the safety of my handful (or more) of students here Northern Minnesota, even if we were at a college. We had between 5-15 students at most meetings, and they were great kids: within a year, they planned and executed a state-wide conference, held at our campus. I worried about their safety on many levels, but they were brave (even when a few couldn’t be included in our group photo, for fear of being outed before they were ready).
Early on in the process, we talked a lot about what they wanted the group to be. Do you want a support group, a safe place to talk to one another? Do you want to be an activist group? Should we march somewhere? We could write letters to congress people…We did a little bit of all of those (except the marching. We were tired).
I remember one particular conversation. We were talking about gay marriage, and how it all seemed so far away. “But marriage equality will happen in our lifetime,” Sam said to me. “I know it will.” I was shocked. He was a smart young man, but I thought he was delusional. This was years before Brokeback Mountain, and it was (and still is) legal to fire someone in North Dakota just for being LGBT. Instead of arguing (how do you tell an 18 year old that you don’t believe he’ll ever be allowed to marry someone he loves?) I said “I hope you’re right. I really do.” I didn’t believe it for a second.
Oh, Sammy. You were smarter than me even then, 17 years ago now. I’m so glad that I was wrong. I’m sorry it took so long. I’m sorry North Dakota (and 28 other states) still don’t provide legal protection against discrimination for you yet. But I am so happy, too.
I hope in twenty years the most recent Supreme Court ruling will seem just like common sense to all Americans. I hope those people who are upset by this ruling can open their hearts to their LGBTQ brothers and sisters, cousins and uncles and parents and nephews and nieces and friends.
Love wins, y’all.