Commentary Law and Policy

Why I’m Proud To Be an LGBT Teen in Illinois

Emily Spangler

Even with all that's left to accomplish, I'm proud to reside in the land of Lincoln.

Emily Spangler is a 15-year-old high school student and one of Rewire‘s youth voices.

Recently, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill permitting same-sex marriage. But I knew equality was coming the day I watched the Illinois House of Representatives vote 61 to 54 in support of the policy. I watched online as openly gay lawmakers, past and present, showed their support by their mere presence in the room. As a teen living in Illinois who is part of the LGBT community, this was not just about equality for me. It represented a giant leap forward.

My parents taught me to treat everyone with dignity and respect, no matter the circumstances. Skin color, gender, sexual orientation—these identities, I learned, should never be the basis for passing judgment on a person. As I got older, I realized that I, too, am part of a community that I was taught to not judge: the LGBT community. This community is often misunderstood, offered up as a joke, and deemed “sinful.” While I proudly came out and started to advocate for my own rights and for the rights of others, I also became an LGBT advocate because it’s a human rights issue. It’s about justice, and ensuring that all our citizens are valued, wanted, and accepted for their true identity.

Marriage equality is a critical piece of LGBT rights advocacy. For one thing, marriage is sacred for many people. It can be a consecration of a couple’s love. Many people of all sexual orientations dream of this important rite of passage. For certain individuals to be denied this unity is absurd. Love is love. No one has the right to deny people marriage because they themselves show ignorance to the way others were born or how others express love. Finally, in my state, the compassion, empathy, and appreciation that are shown between LGBT partners will be recognized as legal.

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But let’s not stop there. We need to do more in Illinois and around the country in support of the LGBT community. As far as marriage equality goes, Illinois is now one of 17 states plus the District of Columbia that has it. So we still have more than half of the states in the country left to go.

Other issues still left to tackle include banning gay conversion therapy to ensure that young adults like me are not forced to undergo extreme treatment to be “cured” of our “disease.” My friends and I have already been in contact with an openly gay lawmaker about our desire to ban this supposed therapy, which is an expression of intolerance and can be scarring to those forced to undergo it.

We also must work across a range of areas to ensure equal rights for LGBT youth so that young adults are no longer threatened in their schools, communities, and homes simply because of the way they were born or who they love. One way to take action is to join forces with national groups and efforts, such as the Human Rights Campaign or the NOH8 Campaign. Even the act of sharing stickers and photographs from these campaigns sends a message to the community that both legislators and voters must stand up for the rights of LGBT people of all ages.

Even with all that’s left to accomplish, I have to say how proud I am to reside in the land of Lincoln. What a number of Illinois lawmakers did was courageous, and to them I say: Thank You. Thank you for recognizing love even though there are still many states that deem it invalid. Thank you for voting for your constituents and for the citizens of Illinois who belong to the LGBT community. Because of your compassion, we will be able to define our love as something sacred, something beautiful, and something legal.

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