Op-Ed

A real-life civics lesson in equality

TNS

About four years ago, I didn’t know that same-sex couples couldn’t marry. I was 12 and assumed that everyone could love each other and marry.

It wasn’t until I turned 13 and began to realize that The Defense of Marriage Act, put in place before I was born, defined marriage as being between a man and a woman.

In short, I was confused.

That year, I came out to my friends and family and was met with mostly support.

My mother, who didn’t understand that her 13-year-old daughter could be a lesbian, still saw that I needed her acceptance in a world where people like me didn’t have the same rights as people like her.

But when I turned on the news, I didn’t hear the same tone of acceptance from then-Gov. Charlie Crist. Nor did I hear it from our current governor, Rick Scott, whose attorney general, Pam Bondi, fought every effort to make same-sex marriage legal in Florida.

But June 24, 2011 was a special day for me. It was the day New York legalized same-sex marriage, only a couple of weeks after I turned 13.

I remember being on the phone with the girl I liked as we spoke of starting a picturesque life in New York. I remember feeling her smile through the phone.

“We can live in an apartment and take walks to Central Park, holding hands, without making anyone mad.”

That was the dream.

Our awareness of the realities of being gay in America was stunning for 13-year-olds. We knew that in the majority of the states, we weren’t seen as the same as our heterosexual friends, who would never have to fight for their right to marry.

Soon, the girl I adored as a young teenager realized that our dreams were far-fetched.

She moved on. And I was left heartbroken; after all, I had told everyone I was gay because I liked her.

I tried to shrug it off until a girl my age told me, “This is what you deserve. Girls shouldn’t be together.”

I cried on the way home from school. I felt as if my pictures of love were stained at such a young age because I was gay. I was scared that my future would be a series of “getting what I deserve” because I’m different.

But this year, I got up in front of about 150 students at a debate convention and announced I was gay. Everybody clapped.

When the Miami Herald reported the first same-sex couple was married in Miami-Dade County last week, my journalism teacher at Miami Lakes Educational Center read the announcement with a smile. Everyone cheered.

It was triumphant. It meant that my generation and those to come would never have to move across the country to get married. It was a glimpse of decades of hard work by marriage-equality activists and their supporters.

I hope that a 12-year-old out there will never know that Florida once banned same-sex marriage.

I know that I am fortunate to grow up in a state that has been so accepting of my differences, and my heart goes out to those who aren’t. But seeing the catalytic LGBT-rights movement shows me that change is possible and coming fast.

Stephanie Brito, 16, is a Miami Herald intern and a junior at Miami Lakes Educational Center. She is a copy editor on her school newspaper, The Harbinger, a staff member and photographer on her yearbook and an officer with Junior State of America, a debate organization.

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