‘If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door in the country.”
These immortalized words of Harvey Milk are quoted within our community with a sense of reverence.
Having been born after the days of the infamous police raids, high-profile beatings and the HIV/AIDS epidemic’s zenith, I scarcely know the horrors that the older vanguard of our community has been through. I never underwent corrective therapy at a “Mormon gulag” and, thus, I do not know the pain inflicted on those who have. In fact, the year that Harvey Milk died was the year that my father became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
No amount of reading can ever instill within me the passions and experiences that the generation before me has experienced and, in many ways, my arrogance has led me to believe that previous generations are unproductive and serve as merely an antagonist to society.
Although I was not present during the opening stages of the battle for our rights when the bullets started flying and did, in fact, enter the brain of Harvey Milk, I was born into the second phase of the war. I entered the world when the energy of the ’70s and ’80s was dying and I have come of age in a time of complacency. The battleground has been covered with new grass and the scars of battles past are hidden underneath the new façade of decent and complacent democracy. Rather than gathering in the streets and town halls, we hide in our night clubs, cowering and waiting for a new catalyst to send our community into action.
I am as guilty as any of hiding, I’ve been cautious and attempted to cast a quiet activist persona about me, working behind the scenes to ‘bring about equality and provide a voice for marginalized voices,’ I have hidden behind the guise of a consensus builder when, in reality, the only consensus I was building was that we are inferior and must beg for hand outs from an outside source. I’ve been shy to protest and reserved to express all that I am and, as I have done so, bullets continue to fly.
Being naïve as I am, I have believed that the battleground changed when in reality, the only thing that has changed is the weaponry. Now, more than ever, the battle is raging, going to the ballot box is not enough in its own right. Marching in anger and confused passion answer not the call of destiny but the call of the first voice brave enough to speak. Without cohesion and unity our community is destined to fail, all the while we continue to suffer irreparable damage.
Within the last month, I have seen firsthand as the bullets of this war have entered the brain of two of our community’s leaders. Although they will not be memorialized on the news or in a national magazine, these two beautiful individuals have paved the way for a transformation of our broken community. The assassination of these beautiful souls was not carried out by one man but at their own hand. With one final act of self expression these two individuals charged forward with dignity and gave their life for the cause for which they so nobly fought.
Every day, stories such as that of James Dunkley, a 19-year-old boy from North Ogden whose life ended in June of 2009 due not to complications with faulty health, but an inability to carve out a small piece of his destiny. In a final act of desperation, James did what many of us wish we could do, he raised his voice and cried out against the failings of a fundamentally sick society. Raising a voice that you fundamentally do not understand is a near impossible task, one in which a dramatic transformation of character can take place.
I have not risen to this task, and thus I remain a coward. With this article I hope to finally leave behind any question of the person that lies behind the mask. I no longer hide who I am but embrace it fully, in the utmost of sincerity I raise my voice in honor of those who felt that theirs were not heard.
Individuals such as my friends David Standley and Tim Tilley whose lives ended this week in the battle against fear mongering and restricted self expression. I seek not to capitalize on the loss of two incredible individuals, but rather to honor them by expressing my sincerest of gratitude for although you are no longer with us, the lessons you taught us were lifelong.
As I think about the sacrifice that David, James, Tim and the countless other causalities of our battle for tolerance have made, I cannot help but feel a sense of purpose. In the truest of senses, the role we play in changing our world is as simple as living our lives on a daily basis. For, although the closet door for David was opened, the world he stepped into was not one in which he felt he could live to his potential and individual choosing. In his death, the words signed with blood by countless individuals ring true, “When an individual is protesting society’s refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his very act of protest confers dignity on him.” In David standing up for himself and being willing to stand for who he was, his message was one of the utmost urgency. If we do not begin to raise our voices again, we will forever be lost. David raised his voice and unfortunately, he felt so alone in doing so that he could not bear the weight of the world.
Let Tim Tilley’s voice rouse you to action, for although he was a soft spoken and timid boy, the message of his life will forever speak volumes of truth. If you hear this message, wherever you stand, answer Tim’s call, show David that we’re the generation, and we can’t afford to wait. The cause is noble and the power of our collective voices can drown out the voices that silenced David and Tim. Honor the memory of those who have died as a result of an uncaring and unwelcoming society by raising your voice.
Whether you are 15 or 97, the power to change your world is in your hands. By acknowledging who you are and sharing that with your loved ones, you will reinforce the entire front we currently fight on.
The most important lesson to take away from suicide is that you are never alone. You are never powerless and together we will survive.
The needs of our community are ever growing and before our movement will ever have success we must first become a community. In many cases, we are all we’ve got, even with the most liberal of statistics, 10 percent of the population; we are a very small island. We are spread across all ethnic barriers, our lives are spent in all socioeconomic classes, and we are in every religion worldwide yet we must choose to speak and not to silence ourselves. We will never be represented until we make our voices heard and in order to do that we must work in all aspects of our society’s bounds.
There are leaders out there that can and aided our communities in ways we can never fully know. Thank God for those like Richard Matthews and the great Nova Starr who seek to prevent the spread of illnesses that have wreaked havoc on our community. Thank God for those like Michael Aaron and Salty Gossip for their commitment to save our community from the perils of being uneducated and bored. Thank God for those like Colton Lejeune, Trent Garner, and Berlin Schlegel who show an unwavering desire to help the younger members of our community become comfortable within the bounds of their own skins. Thank God for Allison Black and those committed to aiding our friends and families. Thank God for Brandie Balken and Isaac Higham for their unwavering commitment to working within our democratic institutions to change our legal status. Finally, thank God for those who work every day to bring about equality, thank God for you and me.
Remember, you are never alone, and the promise you hold, the promise of your voice can only be achieved when you decide to raise it!
It is my hope that the next time you hear of a protest, you will go and raise your voice in solidarity with others, in honor of those who can no longer speak, like David and Tim. The next time there is an election, you get involved and raise your ballot to symbolize your commitment to changing legal statuses. The next time you are asked whether you are LGBTQ+, raise your voice loudly by stating that you are who you are and that “I am equal.” Only through a mind-set of true equality can we ever be equal. Never withdraw from society in fear, but proudly participate because the beauty of a cultural war is that we all carry within us a piece of the flag of victory that will be raised when the war has been won.
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson