My time at the University has been one of challenge, empowerment, disappointment, and exuberant triumph. Since initially coming to campus as a first-generation college student with only one high school peer as my support system, I’ve been able to experience an immense amount of growth as I continue to navigate life away from my conservative, southern Illinois home. My volunteer work at the Spectrum Center during my freshman year was the beginning of that journey of self-realization and reflection.
Honestly, I first started working at the Spectrum Center out of guilt. For years, I hid myself from those I cared most about, and purposefully blinded myself to the pain that my home community continually inflicted upon people of queer identity. I remained comfortable in my cloak of invisibility as I maintained secret relationships, openly lied, and nervously skirted around the issue. Under no circumstances would I jeopardize my identity, and in doing so, I felt myself perpetuating systems of oppression, silence, hatred, and lack of understanding. After I came to Michigan, I called myself a “bad gay” for failing to fight for change, equality, and freedom of oppression in my home. My second semester of freshman year, I guiltily walked up the steps of the Union to the 3rd floor: the Spectrum Center.
That next semester was a whirlwind of learning and unlearning, realization of privilege as a cis-gendered, white, male, and empowerment to take action out of compassion and a willingness to understand the stories of others rather than out of the guilt, anger, and pain from my upbringing. This set the stage for my future career decision in being a warrior for breaking down health inequities on a global scale in regards to indigenous populations.
Because of my work at Spectrum, I opened my eyes to the systematic oppression that I’ve been subject to as a queer identifying person. During my second year at the University, I first learned that I’m banned from donating blood or any blood product in the United States – for life. This policy first went into place in 1983 in reaction to the growing HIV epidemic, setting the framework for decades of homophobia and HIV/AIDS-phobia that still perpetuate. Today, I take a stand in solidarity for those who cannot donate because their blood is “too gay,” and I work in collaboration with blood drive organizers across campus and beyond. I seek change. Do you?