Let me take you back to 2004, when the country was immersed in a war waged against LGBT Americans. Constitutional amendments were popping up around the country to enshrine marriage discrimination.
I was just graduating from college, beginning my work in the Florida House of Representatives Democratic Caucus, and living very much in the closet. Only a handful of friends and family members knew I was gay.
Fast forward to 2006, when then-incoming House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber promoted me to serve as the Democrats’ Communications Director and spokesperson. A friend cautioned me that given my visible role and the political climate, I had an obligation to share with Leader Gelber that I was gay. I wrestled with how to approach Dan and share a part of my personal life that was irrelevant to my professional abilities.
I worried that “outing” myself could be a bad career move.
However, what unfolded the day I told Dan that I was gay taught me one of the greatest lessons in life. I shared with Dan that I was gay, though not out to family, and if serving as his communications director and being gay would be problematic, then I would gladly shift to another role in the office.
I will never forget the words Dan told me, as he stopped me mid-sentence and said very firmly: “Don’t ever give a person the authority to judge you because of who you are. Now get to work.”
After work, I went home and shared with a friend how that moment liberated me.
As I reflect on what transpired now over 16 years ago, the same chamber where I worked and felt safe to come out is now considering legislation that would ban Florida’s youth from feeling safe in their schools.
More disgusting is that the legislation will put youth in harm’s way because some parents may not be as welcoming when their son or daughter comes out as gay, as a teacher or counselor may be. I know this to be true because it’s what happened to me.
Yes, I was in high school questioning who I was, and I had a safe space to discuss it with a counselor who I knew would keep this private. I chose to punt accepting who I was to later in life, but I did that with the opportunity to have private conservations with a counselor.
Today’s youth are being denied that with the proposed legislation that correctly has been framed as “Don’t Say I am Gay.”
I urge lawmakers to reflect on this legislation and ask themselves why they are doing this. Because the unintended consequences will be seen when suicide rates grow among youth who fear that their safe space has been penetrated by politicians looking to score cheap political points in rallies and Twitter.
My safe space ultimately was an office in the Florida House of Representatives; it sickens me that the same halls that afforded me my freedom are being used to deny our youth their opportunity to have a safe space.
Christian Ulvert is the president and founder of EDGE Communications, a Florida-based public affairs consulting firm. Ulvert served as chair of SAVE, a prominent South Florida LGBTQ Advocacy organization and is a graduate of Miami-Dade public schools.