Jacob Rudolph is an LGBT youth advocate from New Jersey who will attend the University of Miami to study music business.
To many, Pride is about parades of gay people cutting loose. Those of us in the LGBT community, however--particularly in my generation--know Pride’s role goes so much deeper than that. When my parents were in high school, it would have been unthinkable for a student to come out publicly while still in school. When my grandparents were in high school, very few people of any age came out publicly at all. Because of Pride, however, LGBT youth today are seeing a world in which they not only can come out publicly, but be supported when they do.
The LGBT community has built its current successes on the successes achieved by those who came before them, but as society has evolved, so have the issues and challenges we’ve faced. We’ve battled hatred and apathy when AIDS ravaged our community. We’ve succeeded in many states in obtaining protection from workplace discrimination based on our sexual orientation. The list of our victories is long and day by day, it keeps getting longer.
When I came out in January as an LGBT teen in front of 300 of my peers at a high school awards ceremony, my coming out speech was received with a standing ovation. I didn’t experience a single instance of backlash afterwards and that wouldn’t have been possible without the groundwork laid through Pride’s past efforts.
Emphasis is now being given to LGBT youth. We’re equipping teens with the self-esteem they need to come to terms with their sexuality and be who they are. I had the privilege of speaking at a local middle school with my younger brother, Ben (a middle school student when he spoke), as part of its Living Lessons program. During this presentation to the kids, Ben focused on the dire importance of the straight alliance to LGBTs. Afterwards, we received numerous letters from students, acknowledging their LGBT or ally status and thanking us for helping educate their peers that everyone needs to accept LGBT individuals as they are. Many even indicated we’d inspired them to be actively supportive of their LGBT friends and family.
LGBT youth are seeing that state and local government—like in my home state of NJ--are looking out for their interests. On Monday, by an overwhelming 53-7 vote, the NJ Assembly voted to prohibit professionals from engaging in the harmful practice of so-called “gay conversion therapy” on minors. Pride has taught us we have a right to be proud of who we are, and has equipped us with the confidence to push and push hard for the protections and rights we need and deserve.
My generation is leveraging the power of social media to reach out to society, bringing attention to the Pride events that demonstrate our unity, as well as bringing awareness to our civil causes. Through Pride, we have moved society to condemn acts of violence of LGBT youth loudly and vigorously. Because of the perseverance Pride has fostered in our community, we might now have finally reached the tipping point when society and the law realizes our goal of true equality.
Thanks to Pride, my peers and I are more focused than ever on LGBT progress, and have been given the ability to change the LGBT mindset from “It gets better” to “It can be better now”.