By Vic Gipson

I understand how ignorance can lead to bigotry. Even though I’m a trans person, I fell into that trap myself when younger. What’s difficult to comprehend, though, are the people who continue clinging to their prejudices regarding the LGBTQ+ community instead of embracing empathy as they learn and grow.

For me, the awakening came when I was still in middle school. That is when an older sibling of mine came out as a bisexual person. My original reaction was negative. Because of the stereotypes presented in mainstream media, I had the mistaken perception that any existence outside of traditional heterosexual or cisgender standards was destined for some form of “punishment.” I was not raised in a religious family, and my loved ones never displayed these values. So, the root cause of my thinking absolutely stemmed from what I had heard in the media about LGBTQ+ folks growing up.

Thankfully, my older sibling showed me grace and began talking to me about identity and diversity. My other siblings and my parents also showed patience and forgiveness even when I was ignorant, giving me space to self-reflect. I apologized for the concerns I expressed upon learning that they were unkind myths and spent the following nights researching what different sexual orientations and gender identities there were and how folks came around to discover themselves.

Let me be clear: The research and conversations didn’t influence how I identified. That’s not how things happen. What they did do was provide me with the vocabulary needed to understand that issues regarding human sexuality and gender are much more complex than I realized. As someone just entering puberty and starting to discover how I felt about my changing body, what I learned was crucial. It let me know I wasn’t trapped into a certain way of being just because of the gender I was assigned at birth. And that there were other people like me.

I was still just a kid as this was going on, but even at that young age, I could see that love, and the acceptance that comes with it, are what matter most. Since then, I’ve found that most people are like me. Given time and accurate information, they, too, chose love.

Sadly, there remains a very vocal – and politically active -- minority of people who continue spouting hate no matter what scholarly research shows or what basic human kindness demands. Among that group are politicians hoping to score points and raise money by spouting harmful rhetoric and pushing discriminatory laws in states across America. Trans people such as myself have been designated the new primary target in the ongoing culture wars.

It is frightening. It is also incredibly frustrating because these efforts to oppress and harm are occurring despite the fact that the vast majority of Americans, according to numerous polls, support equal rights for LGBTQ+ people.

The widespread political attack on trans people is not happenstance. Instead, as the New York Times recently reported, it is a “deliberate” tactic. Since 2020, according to the Times, “at least 20 states, all controlled by Republicans, have enacted laws that reach well beyond the initial debates over access to bathrooms and into medical treatments, participation in sports and policies on discussing gender in schools.”

It can be exhausting.

This is one reason it is so important to celebrate Pride Month. Attending festivities that joyously reflect the rainbow of our community is a way for us and all of our allies to keep our emotional batteries charged. It also presents the opportunity to reflect on – and take immense pride in – how much progress has been made in our long quest for equality. Just this year, the Michigan Legislature passed a law making it clear that LGBTQ+ people are protected by the state’s civil rights law.

That is huge! So yes, we have much to celebrate.

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Also worth celebrating is the future within our reach. If there is anything that gives me hope more than anything else, it is the other young people I see all around me. It is a generation of people who, overall, are extremely open-minded. We don’t just accept people who are different from us, we appreciate each other because of our differences.

We are also politically aware and active, which we must be. Those who want to persecute us do so by organizing and voting. And they won’t disappear as a political force anytime soon.

I may only be 19 years old, but you don’t have to be an observer of politics for very long to see how quickly the winds can shift. We currently enjoy having a governor and legislative majority who are friendly to our cause. To ensure it remains that way, we must stay politically active, continuing the effort to put into office people who reflect our values and advocate for our rights. But that alone is not enough.

No law can force open a mind or soften a heart. Instead, we do that by living as our authentic selves and telling our stories with love in our hearts.

That is how we win.

Vic Gipson is working toward a degree in social work at the University of Michigan—Flint. He’s also a support specialist with the advocacy group Stand With Trans, as well as the co-facilitator of the My Trans Voice youth advisory group council at the Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health.