by Lana Leonard

Well, another year has past and I am still blown away by the annual Central New Jersey GLSEN and HiTOP NJGSA forum. This year was my third year attending the forum, which was held at Lenape Regional High School in Medford, NJ, and although I have graduated high school, I still find a beloved belonging to the positive energy that each high school brings in furthering human rights, celebrating pride, while withholding the realest human beings I have ever had the pleasure to be in the same room with.

Entering the cafeteria comes with an assortment of turned heads. I think everyone is shocked to be in the same room with so many LGBT human beings. With over four hundred people in one room, it feels like the entire LGBT population has entered one space. I looked around myself and found many people red cheeked, laughing, nervous, celebrating, debating what workshop they should attend, but most importantly, I saw happiness. I do not believe I have ever seen as much happiness in my entire life as I saw this past Saturday November 14th, 2014.

I walked over to the coffee and tea stand to indulge in a well needed cup of joe where I made eye contact with the most brilliant brown eyes. What a beautiful girl and her eye contact was neither playful nor made to only clarify a physical attraction, but an eye contact filled with purely honesty and sincerity. She made my smile fade into the depth of my thoughts. Throughout the day, I had not made eye contact with this peculiar girl unless the eye contact was the single focus of the moment—I was not used to that, but it allowed me to better pay attention to the legendary gay activist, Mark Segal—the keynote speaker of the event.

Mark Segal was born in 1951 and in 1969 truly made a rock star out of himself. Forty-five years later, he still manages to be a rock star. His workshop revolved around LGBT history and rights, and was designed so that the audience could direct the flow of the gay rights timeline. I was really impressed with the courage of Mark. He is someone to look at when one feels they have nothing to give. Imagine being apart of a community that was basically invisible to society’s definition of an ‘all-natural and normal’ existence, dropping out of high school, and running away to New York City without a penny to your name or a clue about your purpose? Well… maybe I could imagine running away to the city, but in that time, I know I would have struggled. Mark struggled, but he used that struggle as a power to change LGBT rights in North America to what it is becoming today.

With all this being said, I want to convey the freedoms I feel as a youthful gay woman in America. This Saturday I spoke to parents of Pflag about how they love their gay sons and daughters, and listened to them talk about how they just want to support, love, and ensure their child’s safety in this cruel world; I listened to fellow college students talk about social activism as careers and how to build Gay Straight Alliances in colleges; I saw friends that I have made just by going to the forums year after year. My heart is bursting with the amount of love, belief, and courage of the human beings of the LGBT community and the community’s allies. I know I withhold all these beautiful feelings about where LGBT rights have gone, but I also feel the need to keep working toward a more equal and unified country, and someday, world, that does not view, race, gender, and love as a way of defining what a normal human being is. The NJGSA Forums, remind me that I will work for equality until my time on this Earth is finished—not just for me, but for the entire world.

With all my love,
Lana Leonard