As he gave his speech in front of the marble forefather of freedom that hot August day, he stood before 200,000 supporters and told them about a dream that would mark the beginning to the end of an era of blasphemous discrimination, handing minorities the opportunity for liberty. He wasn’t just speaking about the oppression of African Americans; he was talking about all people who ever had felt the singe of segregation. He was talking about me.
This was the genesis of a fundamental shift in the way society treated people who were unlike themselves—a collective movement toward equality. We undoubtedly still have a long way to go, but we are moving closer. I gradually have felt the difference between tolerance and acceptance.
I also had a dream. I had a dream when I was 7 that I would feel like everybody else one day and that people would stop chastising me for being a tomboy. I had a dream when I was 20 that I would stop falling in love with my best friend. I had a dream when I was 25 while lying my parents’ arms that they would still love me after I told them I was gay.
I have a dream today—that one day we will reclaim those lives that would be lost to suicide for fear of living a gay lifestyle. I have a dream of hope for the next generation.
King gave me the courage to stand in my truth. He afforded me the luxury of living in safety with my partner—apathetic to the dwindling occasions of discrimination.
He has affected my happiness; he has helped rejuvenate many relationships that had been choked by the weeds of shame before I came out of the closet. If he hadn’t been born, I would have stayed in the “chains of discrimination” that kept me in my usual, stale place.
I am not a poster child, and most people wouldn’t guess I am gay, but I am familiar with the feeling of isolation associated with being perceived as a pariah. I am fortunate, though; I was born in a time that is on the cusp of change.
I wish I had been able to stand up with my brothers and sisters in the repulsive face of ignorance that day in 1963, fighting for civil rights—something that was ours to begin with. I wish I could have stood with Dr. King, because I am quite certain if he had not been assassinated, he would have stood by us.
By Gina Daggett
Winner, Pacific University Essay Contest, January 2002