When I first agreed to write this letter for Shadow’s Edge, I thought, “Oh sure! This will be easy and I’ll crank this out in no time! I’m an avid writer, an LGBTQ+ activist, and I’ve got plenty of opinions to share.”
I was wrong. I realized there was so much I want the LGBTQ+ youth of today to know. So much to fit into one blog post.
I want you to know that, no matter how dark and dangerous the world may seem right now, we have come so far. I remember being a kid in the 90s in rural Arkansas and LGBTQ+ people were this fringe group that you just heard whispers about. You knew they existed, but you couldn’t for the life of you name any that you knew personally.
Since that time, I have had the joy of being a part of not one but THREE cities’ first PRIDE ever here in the South.
I have watched as those PRIDE events grew from a small group of a few dozen to thousands of people flooding the streets. I have wept as I marched in parades and waved at countless smiling faces because I remember what it was to be terrified to walk down those streets openly being myself. I’ve all but collapsed in the arms of a stranger wearing a “Free Dad Hugs” shirt; he hugged me tight and wouldn’t let go because he could feel in the tremble of my shoulders how much I needed that moment.
I have held my head high as I stood on stages in rooms filled with people and announced that I was the first gay man ever to run for the State House of Representatives in my area.
I didn’t win, but I did provide a voice where there had been none and showed others in the LGBTQ+ community that our identities are a strength and not a flaw. Due to that work, I now sit as the Chair of the 3rd Congressional District for the Arkansas Stonewall Caucus and I have the opportunity to bring the voices of the LGBTQ+ community to state policy.
Most importantly, to me at least, I sat in a courthouse in 2014 and cried while I hugged my partner and we became one of the first same sex couples married in our county. This was something we never dared dream a possibility, yet here we are celebrating our 7th wedding anniversary.
My point in sharing all of this with you is to provide an example.
I know this last year has been particularly hard for many of us in the LGBTQ+ community. It often felt like the world once again turned its back to us just as we were starting to understand what sunlight felt like on our faces.
I want you to know that there is a rich history of amazing people who have fought just to get us to this point. That you walk with the spirits of countless people supporting you. That this world, no matter how dark it may seem, amazes those of us that are old enough to remember only 30 years ago.
I want you to know that you have power. That you can raise your voice and make the world better. There is a whole community out there that loves you fiercely and will support you every step of the way.
So I’ll end with this: You are powerful. You are unbelievably unique and beautiful. And no matter what, you are loved.
About the Author
Michael Bennett-Spears is a native Arkansan and community advocate. He grew up in a rural community, and is passionate about fighting for the LGBTQ+ community in Arkansas and the South. As an advocate, Michael has worked with groups to pass a civil rights ordinance protecting people from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and helped organize the first Pride Festival in Siloam Springs where he lives with his husband. In 2020, Michael became the first openly LGBTQ+ candidate to run for Arkansas State Rep in his district and currently sits as NWA Chair of The Arkansas Stonewall Democratic Caucus.
Mental Health Resources for LGBTQ+ Readers
The Trevor Project
The Trevor Project provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning young people under 25. Learn more: www.thetrevorproject.org
- Phone: 1-866-488-7386
- Hours: Available 24/7
- Cost: Free
- Text the word “Trevor” to 1-202-304-1200
- Hours: Monday through Friday between 3pm to 10pm ET/ Noon- 7pm PT
- Cost: Standard messaging rates apply
TrevorChat: Online instant messaging with a TrevorChat counselor.
- Enter the online portal on The Trevor Project’s Website
- Hours: 7 days a week, 3pm to 10pm ET/ Noon – 7pm PT
- Cost: Free
Trans Lifeline is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the well being of transgender people. The hotline is staffed by transgender people for transgender people. Learn more: www.translifeline.org
- Phone: 1-877-565-8860
- Hours: Every day of the week from 11am to 5am ET
- Cost: Free
It Gets Better Project
The It Gets Better Project is a nonprofit organization with a mission to uplift, empower, and connect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth around the globe. Their website offers education, stories, and directory of local resources to help get the support your loved one needs. Learn more: www.itgetsbetter.org
- Get the Support You Need
- Hours: 24/7
- Cost: Free