Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

What is the ENDA Act? The act that would end living, employment, and service discrimination against those who don’t strictly identify as heterosexual or cisgender (those whose sex matches their gender identity). The bill that would jump-start my interest in politics, marking my shift from childhood to young adulthood.

In December 2014, a group of teens in grades 10-12 from my synagogue traveled to Washington D.C. to advocate for LGBT rights, campaign fund reform, and alternate energy sources. On that brisk Monday morning, my fellow peers and I presented to Sen. Chuck Schumer’s secretary and Congresswoman Nita Lowey asking for LGBT rights to remain in their minds during the next Congress. Since then, gay marriage has been legalized on a federal level. I’d like to think that my lobbying, and the lobbying of many other groups and individuals played a role in the Supreme Court’s decision in June 2015.

This experience, known in the Jewish community as L’Taken, is a weekend spent in Washington D.C. in order to expose Jewish teens to a wide variety of public policy issues that run rampant on a national level. Being at the time and perhaps currently the “awkward straight friend” in the majority of my friend groups, I had thought myself to be well educated in the realm of LGBT issues. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I did not know, for instance, that it was completely legal for someone to be denied employment, service, or housing simply based upon sexuality or gender identity in thirty-three out of the fifty states. I also didn’t know that one could get married, come back from their honeymoon and then place a picture of their wedding on their desk, and get fired because it was a gay wedding, whether or not gay marriage was legal in that state.

With one of my friends in mind – a peer who had somewhat recently came out as a lesbian – I couldn’t bear to picture her landing a dream job, finding a partner, getting married, and being fired and struggling to get another job just for loving another woman. Since L’Taken, I have participated in numerous GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) events, including Ally Week and the Day of Silence. I have also participated in various lesser-known days of silence that are typically done in response to a member of the LGBT community committing suicide due to bullying they had endured not only by peers, but also by family, such as in the case of Leelah Alcorn.

I, like many other individuals participate in these days of silence in order to raise awareness of bullying. Unbelievably, ninety percent of LGBT students experience some kind of bullying due to their sexual and/or gender identity. I hope doing these days of silence and participating in L’Taken are only the start of my advocating for the LGBT community on a local, national, and maybe even international level. After all, as of this writing, ENDA has not been a part of the current 114th Congress.

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