I love Coeur d’Alene. There is so much love in this town and so many incredible people and things worth loving, but once I started realizing that I also love women, I struggled with how I could still love my hometown in the same breath. It seemed like some horrible, impossible logic puzzle. How could I love myself fully, including my queerness, and love a place and people who don’t?
If two statements can’t both be true at the same time, you must concede one if the other is true. Unfortunately, for a lot of my childhood, it seemed like the easy solution to this puzzle was to just not love myself fully. To normalize hiding away the gay parts of myself-- because my friends and family would reject me because I could be fired from my job for it up until this summer because complete strangers would say horrible things about my identity. Everyone deserves to live in a safe space without fearing harassment or discrimination for who they are.
Homophobia is exactly that-- it is fear.
When a child is in an environment that doesn’t love them for their gender identity or sexual orientation and is forced to also not love those parts of themselves, they are isolated and fully surrounded by hatred when they most need love and acceptance. Gay kids, bi kids, trans and nonbinary kids, queer and questioning kids, I want you to know today that you are loved. Period. End of sentence. You are loved completely and fully and without exception, and if you ever feel like you have to choose between loving yourself and something else, I hope you choose to love. I wish someone had told me that when I was younger, but I’m glad I know it now.
Once I learned that I could commit a radical act of self-love by loving being a lesbian, I fell back to my logic puzzle, convinced the only way I could hold tight to that love was to get away from here and shelter my little queer candle. So, a sophomore in high school, I started looking for my escape, which ended up being a small, historically women’s college over 2000 miles away from Coeur d’Alene. I graduated from high school at Lake City a year early because I worried living here for one more year would be too heartwrenching and miserable. I was a kid, and I was afraid.
Homophobia is exactly that-- it is fear. Fear only breeds fear and hatred, and as a lesbian kid, I was far more afraid of homophobic people than they ever were of me. I was never afraid that I was gay; that label felt so perfectly right, and once I had that, there was no fear that could take it away from me. Families, counseling services, and public schools should always prioritize a child’s fear that they won’t be loved or accepted above anyone’s fear of those different from them.
In this community, there are so many wonderful, loving, accepting people, and I’m so glad to see so many of you today. It isn’t enough to not be hateful, we need to actively nourish and support queer youth. We need school environments, counseling, and organizations that support an inclusive and loving community climate. Our city of Coeur d’Alene has already passed an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, but those protections need to be extended to the state of Idaho as a whole.
Students should feel safe from discrimination in any school, public, private, or charter, in our community, and we owe it to our youth to fight for that. To fight for safety to be themselves and to be loved and celebrated for who they are. To see themselves represented in their school curriculum, to develop community in GSAs with other students like them, to have adequate mental health resources in their schools, and to live without fear of persecution based on their identity. It is our responsibility to form a more loving community in Coeur d’Alene-- write to your legislators, organize for LGBTQ rights on a local level, run for, organize, or get the vote out for the school board, or just be a vocally supportive adult to the children in your life. Our school district is voting for a levy on March 9th that would further financial resources for mental health in schools. Voter registration is due February 12th. Be sure to show up for our kids in the voting booth as well. Our children deserve the best, and we must be loud, proud, and deeply supportive of them.
I love being a lesbian, and I love this town, even if I once thought those two things were impossible. I love everything Coeur d’Alene has the potential to become, and I want queer kids to know that it gets better. It gets better because queer youth make it better, and I urge you all to celebrate diversity and queerness today and every day.