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Being Affirmed in the LGBT Community

It is very important to be affirming to LGBT students to encourage them to live authentic lives.

“Pride, GR” is a personal essay series set to coincide with the 46th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a series of trans women of color-led violent protests and actions that sparked the gay rights movement in the United States in Greenwich Village in1969. This series will feature unique voices and perspectives from members of the LGBT community in Grand Rapids and their experiences with their identity and exisiting in this city. You can read all the articles under the tag "Pride, GR".

The Milton E Ford LGBT Resource Center

The Milton E Ford LGBT Resource Center

Affirmation is looking someone in the eye and telling them that there is absolutely nothing wrong with them. Affirmation is telling someone that their life and lived experience is valid. The truth is that too many people who need this affirmation will never receive that. When someone has been told their whole life that who they are is not only invalid but evil, a single affirming voice is revolutionary.

In the beginning of my undergraduate career at Grand Valley State University, I was closeted due to a religious upbringing that was not affirming of my identity. I was ashamed of my romantic attractions and felt as if there was something wrong with me. But within the first few days of school, I had the pleasure of meeting some amazing people who encouraged my authenticity. Their smiling faces and wise words gave me the courage to not only come out, but to be comfortable being myself. This relieved so much anxiety in my life. Receiving this friendship and affirmation made me realize that there wasn’t anything wrong with me and that I could be honest not only with myself but to the people around me.

Later in my college career, through the generosity of the Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center, I was afforded the opportunity to work as a mentor to first year students who identified as LGBT.  As a co-facilitator for the First-Year Queer Alliance program, I encouraged new students to talk about a variety of things from roommate troubles to social justice issues. I strive to unconditionally support these students as they come to terms with their identities. For a lot of them this cohort was their first setting where they could be authentic and explore their sexuality and gender identity. To promote this, we try to create support systems that encourage complete authenticity and celebrate identities around which many of the students have experienced discrimination. Being affirmed in my identity changed my life, and I can see how much the students I work with appreciate and are impacted by unconditional acceptance as well. Our goal is to foster authenticity through affirmation. Once we become authentic, we can begin to build legitimate and honest relationships.

Historically, the notion of a chosen family has been incredibly empowering in the queer community. Having a support system is essential for a queer person living in an area that has been historically hostile towards your identity.  Watching my students, I have seen some of the most heart-felt expressions of community. For instance, many of the students will accompany transgender or gender nonconforming students to the restroom to prevent harassment or violence. I have seen them critically challenge one another on notions of gender, sexuality, race, ability-status, and class. Sure they bicker and argue, but I know they would drop everything to help one another in a moment’s notice. That’s why family isn’t always about blood or who you grew up with. Family is the community that will challenge, protect, support, and validate you and your lived experiences unconditionally. I have had the absolute privilege of watching affirmation evolve into community in the students I work with. It is truly the most rewarding aspect of my life.


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