2014: Change Your Life

CHANGE YOUR LIFE

It started out as a wallet. It became a mantra. Then a tattoo!

It started out as a wallet. It became a mantra. Then a tattoo!

I saw those words graffitied onto a wallet at the Hollywood & Highland mall right after I finished a hike up Runyon Canyon.  It was late September 2012, and I was wrapping up my first visit to Los Angeles. I desperately wanted not to be returning to Wichita, KS the next day. Such was my fate.

That’s exactly why those three simple words painted onto a red-bricked backdrop and mass-produced for consumption on a faux-leather money-binder arrested my attention.  They were calling out to me, screaming at me really, to do the one thing I’d long been afraid of doing: changing my life!

Whatever else happened, 2013 will always be remembered in the annals of my personal history as the year when I did, indeed, change my life. I bought the wallet for my best friend that night, but somehow I knew those words were as much for me as they were for him. The next day, I returned to Runyon Canyon early in the morning.  I climbed to the pinnacle and stood on top of a rock. The sun beamed down warmly. To my right, the Hollywood Sign sank royally into the towering hills. To my left, the pacific waters of Santa Monica glistened as sunlight danced across the beach. In front of me, a sea of soaring towers and sprawling buildings lit up.

I knew that I belonged down there.  Somewhere in the midst of the congestion, someplace in the middle of the cacophony, I was certain there had to be a place for me. Where I was—and how I would get there—I did not know. But standing alone on that rock with this panoramic vision unfolding, my eyes had seen the future. There was no turning back. There was no looking elsewhere. There could be no more delay. I had to change my life.

I made a promise to myself at that spot. By the end of the next year, 2013, I would be living down there. I would make a plan. I would make it happen. I would just do it.

“I’m just going to do this,” I said out loud.

Those words set in motion a roller coaster 14 months that would test my will, challenge my values, try my patience, and see me nearly lose my sanity. Yet, I ultimately found grace, peace, and satisfaction within that did, indeed, make that intention a reality. Today, I’m sitting in a Hollywood coffee shop reflecting on that experience, with my own studio apartment a few miles away and a job I’m eager to return to after the holidays.

But getting here wasn’t easy. And it wasn’t supposed to be.

I’m not the only person who has been fundamentally unhappy about a specific, key aspect of my life.  I needed to live in a big city, and as much as I love many of the people in Kansas, Wichita just wasn’t where I belonged anymore. I know a lot of people who are in places where they don’t belong, too…and it’s not all about geography. It’s the dead-end job depleting your ambition that you won’t leave because you fear the financial unknown. It’s the failed relationship you rekindle because the thought of being alone scares you more than the idea of being continuously wounded by someone who doesn’t fit you. It’s an ideology you cling to—maybe political, perhaps religious—that doesn’t align with where your core vales are anymore. It’s facets of our life, some big and some small, that add up to setting us back more than they do moving us forward. Once you know you’re going nowhere—and don’t fool yourself, because you do know—you, too, have to change your life.

It’s one thing to have that ‘Runyon Canyon magical moment’ where you see the dream you want to claim; it’s quite another undertaking to execute a plan to make it happen. When the scenery is grand, the temperature is warm, and you are high on the possibility of life, it’s easy to say that you will do something big. Inevitably, though, we all climb down the mountain.

For me, that climb was literal and fast. A few hours after I made that bold pronouncement, I wasn’t in California anymore. I was in Kansas, where the land was flat, the views were nil, and wind-chills had temperatures somewhere in the high teens.  So I did what we all do…I started making excuses:

  • I have too much student loan dept. I can’t move until I pay that all off (that will be never).
  •  I work at a non-profit. I can’t possibly save up enough money to move in one year.
  •  My resume sucks. My career path is weird and disjointed. No one in L.A. will ever want to hire me, especially since I’m from a flyover state.
  •  I’m not pretty enough for Los Angeles. I have curves and stretch marks. And dark circles around my eyes. I’ll be laughed out of town.
  •   I barely know anyone in L.A., and I pretty much know everyone in Wichita. I’ll have no support system if I move!

Self-flagellating excuses…sound familiar? Your list will read differently than mine, but all those excuses are doing the exact same thing that mine were doing: holding you back! Everyday, every moment really, we have an opportunity to see our life through the veil of fear or the veil love. I had conditioned myself into seeing life only through frightful sepia. All along, though, I’ve had a choice. After much reflection (including 10 days of not talking and doing nothing but sitting and meditating at a retreat!), I finally chose the wiser alternative. I re-wrote my narrative (and you should re-write yours, too!):

I always made the payments on my loans, and my credit was strong. I didn’t exactly make a ton of money at my job, but I was far from having to penny pinch. We also did just institute a new flex-schedule policy that allowed me to work 4 longer days a week and have 3 days in a row off, giving me the ability to get extra income from part-time work. My resume was as strong as I sold it, and I had solid references eager to help me get where I wanted. While I couldn’t do anything about somebody else’s prejudice toward Kansas, I could resist the ridiculous impulse to indulge it myself.  I’d been single my whole time in Kansas; even if the guys in LA all thought my hideous, at least it would be warm and I’d have millions of things to do. Not that such a scenario is likely in a city with 10 times the number of people and probably 20 or more times the number of out, gay men! And not knowing anyone, well, I’d just have to make new friends and fresh connections!

With a more honest account of my life in the forefront of my mind, I was better equipped to make and execute the actual plan that was going to get me to Los Angeles. It included working four jobs and cutting back my spending drastically to save up $20,000 so that I could get here and have enough money to stay afloat until I found employment. I wasn’t going to rely on anyone else to get me out of Kansas; I couldn’t hope to be hired away. I–and I alone–would have to get myself to California. Like I said on that rock on top of the canyon, I just had to do this!

And I did. I worked the jobs. I saved up the money. I survived some intermittent drama. I even ended up getting “hired away” and got to leave Kansas a full month a head of when I intended. While I’m beyond grateful for my new job, I got myself to California. I was coming with or without it. That mindset actually made the search and interview process a lot more seamless and natural. There really WAS a place for me down there in those lights, and because I was of the right mindset, I was able to find it!

CHANGE YOUR LIFE

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Change doesn’t come easy. There were a lot of struggles to get me to where I am today. I wanted to give up…several times! But I knew I couldn’t, and I needed a consistent reminder. Mid-way through the year, I got those formative words tattooed onto my stomach…in the tongue of a giant Buddha. After doing some research, I discovered that the wallet image was actually taken from a mural painted onto a piece of the Berlin Wall. A concrete slab that divided and oppressed was repurposed to uplift and inspire.

My move to Los Angeles is about more than a geographic climate improvement, and it is much grander than an upgrade in city cachet (though those two facets are quite awesome!).  In moving, I truly am changing my life because when I drove out of Kansas, I left behind some tired, old ways of thinking that had nothing to do with where I was physically and everything to do with where I was mentally and emotionally. There are things I would have done a year ago that I won’t entertain now…and when I think about regressing, those three words are permanently affixed on the front of my person to remind me that I can’t!

Most of you aren’t going to brand yourself with a grandiose tattoo and move half way across the country to a city where you barely know anybody.  For each of us, the change we need is different. Whatever it is, though, do it. CHANGE YOUR LIFE. You don’t have to carry anything into this new year that you don’t want. Really, you don’t!

CHANGE YOUR LIFE

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Homo OFF the Range

555046_10100257064443052_1562883017_nWide open spaced. Terrain that expands as far as the eyes can see. Endless possibilities. The capacity to be yourself, anywhere.

Literally and figuratively, those are the best parts about being a Kansan. They’re also the ethos for what it means to be “homo on the range.” I started writing this column nearly five years ago because I wanted to start a dialogue about LGBT issues in the Midwest while establishing an identity for what it means to be queer in a red state like Kansas. It’s been an awesome experience to share my life and perspective with you. Half a decade later, I still firmly believe that you can be yourself and be successful anywhere.

That doesn’t mean you should stay in the same place indefinitely, though. You should fall in love with your life a little bit each day. If you don’t, you owe it to yourself to make some changes. For me, I decided over a year ago that I needed to manifest some pretty epic alterations, and I made a plan to move. By the time you read this column, I will be “off the range”, living a new life in Los Angeles, California.

I leave Kansas knowing that I am fortunate to have lived here. I came of age in Wichita at a time when LGBT rights and gay identities were in a state of massive flux. When I moved to Kansas in 1999, the gay rights movement here was still emerging.  I decided early on to always be honest about who I am. I was rewarded for that. Eager to create change, I have been continually empowered by the people here to do good work. Whether it was running the Sedgwick County Democratic Party, writing about art for The Wichita Eagle, promoting bands with ROK ICT, or organizing events at the National MS Society, my sexual orientation has always been viewed as being secondary to my sincere drive to make Wichita a better city. I’ve always felt accepted by most people here. I have even forged friendships and earned the respect of many who were not originally allies of our community. I am nobody special; it’s the collective spirit of the people of Kansas who embody something truly extraordinary.

The locale that launches us defines significant facets of who we are. Though I now call Los Angeles my “home,” Kansas is the place I will always be “from”. Being “from Kansas” means you originate in a place where honesty, hard work, and integrity are central values. It means you incubate somewhere that rewards drive and ambition with encouragement and opportunity. And it means you traverse on soil that you can fertilize with your unique sparkle. In Kansas, you can manipulate the wind as it blows. Those of you who remain should utilize that exceptional malleability to color a more vibrant culture and grow broader acceptance for our LGBT community.

The new life I’ve secured on the west coast was paved by Kansas’ golden road of possibility. I’m excited to start a new position working as a fundraising events manager for a social justice oriented non-profit called Liberty Hill. Having the distinct privilege of moving to a city and immediately getting to work to make it a better community is an advent I am truly grateful to experience.  I will never forget where I came from. Though it’s time for me to go “off the range”, I know that Kansas is a state of mind. In that state, we’re all at our best when we are 100% our unabashed selves.

While this column signals a wrap for “Homo on the Range”, the epic adventure is just beginning! You can keep up with my California-sized exploits on my blog, www.homoontherange.com or by following me on Twitter.

Fear: A Call for Love

eleanor-roosevelt-quotes-sayings-motivational-wisdom-scareEleanor Roosevelt said that we should do one thing everyday that scares us. The patron feminist figure is a great barometer for fearlessness. First Lady of the United States from 1933-1945, she did all sorts of daring stuff women weren’t supposed to do. She took on the clan, championed racial equality, held press conferences, wrote columns, toured coalmines, helped found the United Nations, and had openly lesbian friends. She might have even been romantically entangled with one of them…while being the President’s wife!

She stared down fear by doing things women didn’t do in the 1930’s.  I’ve always admired her for staunchly pushing forward on issues she cared about while aggressively asserting herself despite the times in which she lived.  She lived out her mission by seeing past her fears.

Today, I summoned a bit of that E.R. energy myself by doing not one, but TWO things that scared me:

1)   I resigned my job.

2)   I called out my biggest fear of all: being alone.

Effective December 24th, I won’t have the security of gainful employment. Instead, I’ll have the freedom of enterprising opportunity. Perhaps I’ll land a gig before then, but if not, the wheels are rolling out of ICT and into Cali! I’ve always been afraid of sending off that e-mail officially saying that I’ll no longer work where I do. It’s difficult to leave a comfortable job that has brought only good into your life. At a certain point, though, you have to acknowledge the shortcomings of security. What good is a job if in only reinforces an unfulfilled life?

I’m moving to Los Angeles for several reasons, but a big part of why I’m uprooting my entire existence at 31 is that I want to find a place where I belong again. That was Wichita for a time. For a season I truly felt that I belonged here, but it’s been years since I’ve felt connected or fulfilled. Like most traditional locales, the advent of the 30’s in Wichita means marriage, children, and mortgages for most.  Not really my thing. Plus I’m gay. Enough said. In urban settings, life doesn’t settle in at 30; it’s that point when the adventure truly takes off. I’m ready to find a tribe of people to whom I feel connected with again.

It’s within that most yearned of prospects that my biggest fear has lied. The truth is that I’m not afraid of going broke or being homeless. Somehow, I just intrinsically know neither of those fates will befall me. It’s being alone that I’m worried about. After all, I’m moving to a city where I sort of know a total of kind of 4 people:

1)   My super cool therapist cousin who I’m just now getting to really know and who’s been awesomely supportive of my venture.

2)   An indie flick PR maven I’ve barely seen since high school who I once shared an inside joke with about Civil War aficionado Mary Chesnut. Google her.

3)   The marketing manger for TOMS (yes, the hipster show company!) who former roommate Steffen splashed a shot onto by accident last fall when I was visiting WeHo. He does yoga and posts inspirational memes on his Facebook page.

4)   Steffen’s ex-boyfriend, who is super sweet and probably loads of fun with a great taste in music and affinity for Venice Beach.

Yesterday I was sort of wrapped up in this ridiculous self-pity lonely fear cocoon when LA acquaintance #3 (who will henceforth be referred to as TOMS Guy) randomly commented on a Facebook post I made about fear. I was attempting to pep-talk myself into not being afraid, but really missing the mark entirely when I posted:

Fear. You can give in to it and be defeated. Or you can stare it down and be delivered to something awesome.

TOMS Guy commented:

…or there is always the 3rd, more gentler way. You look past it. For fear is of this world but not of the true world… Fear is nothing but a “call for love.” Bring the love and the fear disappears…

His comment was a simultaneous cold slash of water and hot slap in the face. Throughout all of the year’s worth of saving money and making plans to move, there’s one thing I had not done…called in love! You can’t rid yourself of loneliness or find a tribe to belong to when you aren’t calling out for love to embrace you.

So today, I did just that. And this post is my official call for love! Love is an optimal state where who we are connects to the energy of people around us. It draws in the best of them while extrapolating from us our brightest gems. Friendships, friend groups, tribes, communities, and ultimately romantic partners are born from this force. Once I saw that, fear did indeed disappear.

TOMS are wise sages in addition to being trendy shoes.

All in all, I suppose today was pretty epic. I didn’t pen an Eleanor Roosevelt U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights draft, but I did kick two fears to the curb. Sometimes, the most significant work happens inside our own brain. And on our Facebook wall.

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Freedom: Uncomfortable. Compelling.

17833_568175505032_1064411_nLately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about freedom. There’s the politically charged notion of liberty that stands stubborn in the face of a tyrannical majority. There’s the circumstance of being released from captivity or escaping from some sort of confine. And then, there’s the condition of personal autonomy. It’s a state of being where the sum of one’s actions and the totality of one’s life choices allow for the parameters of existence to be completely and totally defined by, well…you!

Freedom is why I am moving to Los Angeles. I’m quitting a good job and boxing up an easy life because I can. I’m 31 years old. I’m single. I’m responsible. I don’t have children to raise. I don’t a partner to consider. I have no pets. I don’t even really have family who factor into the equation of my daily life decisions.

What I do have is myself, and lately I’ve experienced a renaissance of sorts in reconnecting to that odd, peering reflection I see daily in the mirror.

I didn’t turn 30 gracefully. I’ve spent the better part of the last year bemoaning what I don’t have.  I’ve lamented career choices. I’ve coveted my friend’s romantic relationships. I’ve formed highly inappropriate attachments. But at a certain point, we have to take inventory of what we do possess.

In the shadow of loneliness lurks the obsidian silhouette of epic sovereignty. For me, being alone at this point in this life is a true gift.

In moving to Los Angeles, I am embracing the notion that my existence can be an artful safari. Maybe selling everything you own and venturing to a sprawling metropolises where you know very few people isn’t what you’re supposed to do at 31, but it’s what I’m doing! I’m actually quite excited about the prospect of arriving in the second largest city in the U.S. without a job or without a place to live. That’s because the ideology of work and home have arrested my development.  I don’t know who I am without one or both of these crutches. No, that doesn’t mean I’m going to be unemployed for very long or homeless at all. I’ve been smart about saving up money to ensure my survival. I’ll be laser-focused on finding gainful work.  But sometimes you have to completely let go of the past before you can fully embrace the present. California will be my blank canvass. On it’s expansive, golden coast I will paint something daring and fresh. Life is not a reality one should settle into; it’s a state of being on should boldly define.

I am under no illusions. I’ll be alarmed when I roll into the jam-packed streets of Hollywood and my dented yellow Ford Focus doesn’t have it’s own space to park in. It’ll be disarming that first week or two when I won’t have a bed to call my own. I will do doubt feel a tinge of fear when payroll deposits cease to find their way into my bank account.  I’ll be a little lost wandering crowded streets and discovering new venues where not a soul recognizes me. When I get home–once I eventually have one–there won’t be that familiar maze of art to comfort my sensibilities. I won’t have a Jayson to imbibe a bottle of win with. I won’t have a Lynette to eat Indian food with. I won’t have a Steffen to visit at the bar or make vegan pizzas with. I will have none of the boundaries that define my sense of safety, comfort, and belonging.

But what I will have is everything else—the awesomeness of the unknown. I don’t know what it feels like to wake up as a Californian, to know that your backyard is a canyon and your front porch is a beach. I can only faintly fathom what it will mean to live in a city where being gay isn’t an aberration. My taste buds can only water over the prospect of having raw, vegan, and multi-ethnic cuisine available at nearly any corner.

I will attract the right job that will put me on a path toward financial prosperity and personal enrichment. I don’t know what that will be yet, but it will be something meaningful and challenging that will allow me to grow in the exact ways in which I need to develop. I invite with eager anticipation new friends into my life. I look forward to random connections made as I hike canyons, stroll beach walks, go to yoga, delve deeper into my spiritual interests, wander aimlessly along the streets, peruse art galleries, and seek out awesome music. I’ll take writing classes, volunteer for a film festival or LGBT group, and go to Meet Ups. I might even get political again…this time in a liberal locale!

I’ll do all of this because the sum of my choices has allowed it to be. I am grateful to have the freedom to make this giant, uncomfortable personal change!

We should fall in love with our life a little bit each day. If we don’t, we owe it to ourselves to make some adjustments. Change is uncomfortable. If you’re being true to yourself, though, it will always be compelling.

History: Making, Living Change

celebrate-lgbt-history-month-4LGBT history isn’t the story of a particular cast of notable characters or even a linear tale of significant events. Our history is enormously dispersed and incredibly personal. There are obviously important figures and occurrences that have been pivotal to our collective progress. More influential, though, are the millions of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender who have shared their struggles with their friends, families, and communities. They have picked the locks of other’s hearts, changing the trajectory for generations that will follow.

History is made every time a person tells their deeply religious relative that they are gay, requiring their kin to reexamine long held dogmatic beliefs and look deeper into divine interpretations.  History is made when two men and two women hold hands by the celebrated Keeper of the Plain statue in Wichita, causing many straight people to do a double take, but also subtly changing notions about love. History is made when someone born female starts to live publically as a man, allowing all of us to understand that love really doesn’t have a gender. History is made when a parent discovers that their child is gay and quietly accepts them with love in their heart.

We make history when we are out at work. We make history when we don’t allow our sexuality to segregate us from our faith. We make history each time we push aside the shadows of shame and allow ourselves to fall in love. Even the most seemingly insignificant of actions and indiscriminate of encounters adds to a larger effect.

Unlike other civil rights movements, we don’t come from a community of similarities. There’s no monolithic trait all persons who are LGBT share; indeed, it’s the opposite. We are racially, ethnically, socioeconomically, religiously, and geographically diverse. Our political ideologies run across the spectrum, as do our athletic abilities, and our tastes in art, music, and entertainment. That fact has always posed a significant challenge. It’s hard to develop a cohesive plan of action when a group is so varied. Yet, perhaps that’s why we’ve been so successful as of late at truly changing hearts and minds.

There’s a saturation of media reports about how quickly Americans have embraced marriage equality and how comfortable the public has become with homosexuality in general.  There was nothing quick about this, though…just ask a gay person in their 70’s or 80’s who had to hide for most of their life! Because of millions of small actions over many decades, though, we reached a tipping point. Sometime in the last four years or so, we truly did make history by mainstreaming our community.

We in the Midwest still have a LONG way to go to get to where we need to be. We can find comfort in our history, though.  Remember that you make a little bit of history each day, just by being honest about who you are!

In Between the Kansas Prairie & the Hollywood Hills

1233609_10100229436170332_771747572_nI’m in between the flat Kansas prairie and the towering hills of Hollywood. Mentally, at least.  It’s an odd sort of purgatory, living in a certain place while planning another life in a distinctly different locale.  This is where I have been for exactly a year. This is where I will continue to be for exactly 3 more months.

I’ve lived in Wichita for 14 years. During that time, I was a political activist, an art promoter, a writer, and a special events manager for a non-profit. I didn’t know a soul when I moved here; when I ran for public office, I had a database of over 10,000 friends, acquaintances, and professional contacts. I used to muse about being the mayor; now I daydream about the day I’ll leave for Los Angeles, driving west on US-54 for the last time.

I’m not the first person to leave a small city for a bigger, bolder life. Most do this at a milestone moment. College graduates take their newly minted degree to a thriving metropolis hoping their ambition will catapult them to success. A job well done earns a promotion, and with it a relocation to an urban locale.  Marriage often leads to moves. Family obligations breed frequent migration. There’s a multitude of reasons why and when people leave cities like Wichita.

 Me?

Well, I’m leaving because nothing else is happening.  Friends have moved away or moved on to marriage and children. Activism turned into cynicism as teabag carrying curmudgeons brain-drained our state into Rush Limbaugh’s creamiest wet dream.  Political ambitions faded into the tapestry of a reality where anything that is meaningful happens far from the edges of politics. Mediocrity replaced motivation as I just sort of settled into an existence that was far from bad, though nothing near what is good for me.

In-between periods are awkward and their parameters are undefined. I should know because I’ve been living one for three years. After I left politics, I was never quite able to regain a distinct purpose to my life. I didn’t find a new passion, form a new group of friends, or shift focus to a different, higher work. I just sort of ruminated in my own head. Sure, I had a job—a great job, actually. And I wrote, lots in fact. I met intriguing people. I saw compelling stuff. But the truth is that I flipped as switch the day I left politics, and I’ve never turned on another light.

But I can see a light now, and it’s not just the distant California sun dancing amidst a glowing sea of palm trees. I see something larger, brighter, grander, and I see it right where I am. At the moment, that’s a bar in Delano. But that glow isn’t indigenous to my surroundings; it’s intrinsic to me.

By the end of the year, I will be 31 years old and unemployed. I’m moving from a city where a 2,000 square foot loft of my own near downtown rents for $400 to a place where a small bedroom in an apartment I’ll share with strangers will cost me $900. The dawn of Obamacare will mandate me to carry my own insurance. This will drain my nest egg about $250 monthly because I’m in that under-discussed group of millennials who somehow are getting financially penalized by this much needed reform. We’re carrying the greatest portion of debt in generations, yet we’ll pay more than anyone else for our own insurance. None of this sounds good!

Most people aren’t willing to upend their comfortable life so late into their youth. But I’m not most people. That light I’ve found inside myself is a laser beam that has burned away doubt and apprehension and illuminated a path forward paved with optimistic anticipation.

I read a blog post recently that advised one should know WHY they are moving to LA before they actually up and go. The truth is that the last 3 years of my life have been an odd exercise in existence devoid of any clear direction or grand meaning. I’ve spent the last year preparing for this move, but really it’s just been in the last few months that the significance of its advent has come into focus. So, here is why I am moving to LA:

1.     I want to be a writer. Most of you know only scattered details of the stories I have to tell. One could say that I already am a writer, but it’s become obvious that I’ve reached the apex of anything I could ever do with my words in Wichita. I’m going to take some classes once I get settled and steadily work my way into the business. In ten years, I want to have at least 2 novels published. I’m realistic about the challenges. I’ll do whatever it takes to get there.

2. I want to be some place bigger than me. It’s the mountains, the beaches, the start-studded boulevards, the iconic buildings, and endless parks that I long to traipse through. I’m highly stimulated by environments. I need a place where organic energy and creative rushes abound everywhere.

3. I want my own family. That will never happen in Wichita. Even if it did, we wouldn’t even be considered a legitimate entity in the state of Kansas. I look forward to putting the disappointments and rejections behind me and embracing truth in love.

4. I’m a liberal Democrat hipster vegan. And I kiss boys. The sate of California was pretty much made for me. Screw Sam Brownback and the never ending slog of brain-draining tea partiers…I’ll be voting for Gavin Newsom, Kamala Harris, and Jerry Brown next year!!

I’ll continue to be “in-between” for a few more months yet, but finally I feel certain about my focus. There’s a light inside of me and it will illuminate the path forward. I’m about to have an epic adventure—my own adventure. I don’t know who I will meet, what I will do, or where it will take me. It will be highly uncomfortable, but it will always be compelling.

This journey is now what defines me. And that is fucking exhilarating!

Two Americas

ImageWhen we hear the phrase “there are two Americas”, we generally think about wealth disparity or economic inequality. In the post-Windsor world there’s a new divide: those who live in states with marriage equality and those who do not. It may seem like a simple matter of public policy that effects only a small segment of the population. It’s actually creating a large chasm, though, that threatens to drain talent from states clinging to old traditions.

There are now thirteen states where same-sex couples can legally marry and subsequently have their marriage recognized by the federal government. The Gayly is not distributed in any of them. That means if you are reading this paper, you are in the lesser of the two Americas, at least in terms of rights that you are afforded. There’s nothing inferior about the people and the aptitudes of our communities, though. That’s an important point that business leaders, opinion makers, and politicians need to remember.  With equal rights and basic freedom offered in multiple places now, why should anyone who is gay continue to live somewhere where they aren’t treated equally under the way?

That’s a question a lot of people are starting to ask themselves. It’s an uncomfortable conversation to have, too, because how many people really want to leave their home? All of us have a certain pride in our states. We understand that the Mid-western queer brand of stubborn independence is its own unique phenomena. For a lot of LGBT folks, personal responsibilities and economic realities will keep them exactly where they are. Others, especially those who are young and single, will choose to get educated or start their careers in locales where they won’t have ridiculous burdens placed to their love, though.

There’s a reason our states adopted constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. Right wing politicos correctly predicted that this day could arrive, and they wanted to “safeguard” their states when it did. They’ve actually set us up for failure, though.

In his 2002 book, “Rise of the Creative Class” urban studies theorist Richard Florida laid out a formula for building a booming city that centers around supporting and developing a creative workforce. A big part of the equation is laws that promote inclusion and diversity, along with a thriving gay community, which is often at the epicenter of creative ingenuity. He found that companies choose what cities to bring their operations to based in part on this because they know that their educated, accomplished employees will want to live someplace where everyone is respected.  Gay rights have become a values centerpiece among the millennial generation because the issue is really a proxy for a more open, multi-faceted, and diverse world.  As this generation rises, states who treat gay people like second-class citizens are starting to look less and less attractive.

Each of us will make our own decision regarding how we operate in this new divided reality. There won’t be an immediate mass-exodus to marriage equality states, but there will be lots of individual choices about where to work and live that will add up and have big effects. A broad, national ruling establishing the right to marry is needed, but we can’t expect the US Supreme Court to save us. We have to liberate ourselves. For those who stay—and I assume that’s most of you—that will mean having some very honest conversations with a lot of people about how this new reality effects you and your family. Midwesterners are great listeners. So let’s talk! It’s a conversation that will ultimate make all of our states stronger.

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