A Contemporary Martyr

As you reflect on your life thus far, what has someone said, written or expressed in some fashion that is especially meaningful to you? Why?

“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” Harvey MilkI am a martyr. I am passionate. I recognize the fact that I mean so little, but can do so much. I came across this quote in June of this year, and it brought tears to my eyes because I could see myself in it. I, like Harvey Milk, have a great story to tell. My story didn’t end with two bullets in the head in San Francisco’s city hall; in fact, it hasn’t ended at all. I live every day for a reason, a reason I gave up everything for.During my junior year of high school, I wore a rainbow scarf to school everyday. It functioned partially to warm me during passage between buildings on campus, but it was also my “gay pride flag” as my friends called it. Everyone at Notre Dame, my former school, knew I was out and proud, and I was beloved by my peers and teachers not in spite of it, but because of it. Notre Dame was a loving and nurturing environment in the de facto sense, but it was about as resistant to de jure change as any institution on the planet. I started a Tolerance Forum, a discussion group devoted to addressing issues of social and political tolerance, but the club was never mine, it was a method of subduing a dangerous force. I was frustrated with the lack of change I, a slight girl of 16, had instituted. So when prom time rolled around, and the administration disallowed two girls from attending together, I knew I had to do something.I started the Second Prom. I envisioned it as an off-campus event, completely chaperoned, but with a more accepting atmosphere. At my prom anyone could go with anyone they wanted. My classmates were enthralled by the idea, and I was excited that I could finally take a stand without the Catholic red tape holding me back. I was soon confronted by the administration. They told me that I couldn’t talk about the prom on school grounds. My political radar went into overdrive. I can’t talk about something? Is this 1984? No, it’s just Catholic school. In spite of their obstacles, I sold over 100 tickets, raised $2,000, booked a beautiful Tudor-style hall, hired a band, and commissioned a caterer. The Second Prom was my life for 6 weeks. I lived it, breathed it, ate it, slept it, and dreamed it. I never thought I could care about something so much. I often questioned myself and my close friends, “Why am I doing this? This is just a stupid dance!” It was never just a dance for me. I would never give up my whole life for a bunch of teenagers to dance to Nelly. I knew what I was doing was important so I issued a press release. The day before the prom KYW News Radio, Philadelphia’s local CBS radio affiliate, called Notre Dame for comment. I was pulled out of Physics class, and sent to Sr. Mary Anne, the school president’s, office. Notre Dame’s top five administrators were there waiting for me. Their eyes radiated a sorrowful anger, some of them hated me, some just felt sorry for me. They told me I was a disgrace, and I got out of there as fast as I could. I kept it together in that room, but the moment I shut the door behind me my facade fell apart. I ran out to my bus and just whispered to myself, “Get me out of here; I can’t be here right now.” The next day I was on KYW every 20 minutes, and it felt good to know I did have some people behind me. The prom went off without a hitch. It was great to know I made something so big happen all by myself. It was my baby, and seeing it through to fruition was the best and most important thing I’ve ever done. I went to sleep that Saturday night knowing that I had accomplished something that mattered, I brought a girl to my prom. I didn’t go to school on Monday. My dad met with school administrators, and they “had conditions for my return.” They were offended by my constant disregard for the moral nature of their campus. “Always walking around with that rainbow scarf, even in May. She has no respect.” They were right. I never took that scarf off – it wasn’t just a scarf.On June 1, 2004 my father received a letter saying that I was not welcome back at Notre Dame for my senior year. He told me about a week later, after finals and the SATs. I didn’t cry for a few days. I was mostly stunned that I actually couldn’t finish high school at the place I’d called my home for the past three years. I didn’t tell anyone since we were consulting a lawyer, but they called a town meeting of alumni, parents and faculty to tell everyone that the “problem had been removed.” Their heretic had been burned at the stake. It was at this time that I came across Harvey’s quote. Something clicked inside me, and I knew that everything was worth it. If just one closeted meek and mild teenager hears my story, and gets the courage to be honest and proud of who they are, my life and my sacrifice was worth it ten times over. I gave up everything for something, and that something matters more than all my everythings. Harvey spoke to me from the dead, and enlisted, not a radical, but a martyr.

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