by Matt Gaskin

When I was a kid I was told that I was different.  Many of my peers let me know that there was something “off” about me and that it was not okay.  I would get home from school almost every day and cry in my mom’s arms about how mean the kids at school were.  Yet every day, I would start off thinking that this would be the day I would get the kids to like me, only to repeat just as the day before.

When I was in 7th grade I finally came to realize that I was indeed all the names that I will spare you from having to read.  Needless to say, I kept it under wraps because most of my peers at school had made it clear that it was not a good thing to be “the way” I was.  I took a lot of abuse in the coming years: constant bullying and name calling, in 8th grade I was sucker punched in the jaw (I told no one), in 10th grade I was spit on (I told everyone).

When I was about the same age as the Avodah class is today, I came to decide that I might as well just step up and own who I was.  At that time in society, and particularly in Virginia where I live, high school juniors were not coming out of the closet.  We had no “Gay/Straight Alliance.”  There were not many, if any, support groups for kids who were exploring their gender identity or sexuality.  But, I found a little bit of pride and stood up and said, “Yes, I am gay!”

Pride in who you are is an important part of one’s self, and this is why Pride as an event is still so important today.  Yes, we live in a world with marriage equality; a world where our President makes the Stonewall Inn, the location that is a symbol of the start of the gay rights movement, a national monument; a world where there are members of the trans community who can be looked up to as role models.  But, we also live in a world where 49 people are gunned down in a gay bar in Orlando.

A Pride Parade is important because we need to stand up for all those who can’t stand for themselves or who never could.  The Avodah class, danced and sang their hearts out.  They decorated their truck, their signs, and themselves in Pride slogans, rainbows, and positive messages of love.  The 52 rising high school juniors touched the hearts and hands of the crowd with their pride in themselves and their solidarity with the community.  I was honored and moved to stand and march with the amazing Avodah class as together we waved our flags and raised our voices and sang out loud that no matter who we are we deserve love!