They say that when you come out of the closet, you pass your parents going in.
Not long after I came out to my family in North Carolina, hundreds of candles lit the quad of my college campus at twilight. News helicopters hummed overhead as community members huddled with me for warmth, support, and to protest a disturbing crime. My classmate Thomas had been brazenly attacked by a group of young men on a crowded strip downtown on our university campus. They bloodied his face with punches and blistered his spirit with taunts of “faggot” – the same word that had been spit at me too many times to count.
Thomas was hospitalized and I felt stunned, violated, and vulnerable. I also felt compelled to respond. College provided the first safe, affirming community I had known as a gay person, and I felt determined to protect it.
Point Scholar Win Chesson dresses in drag as an act of creative resistance
To counter the attack’s terrorizing message, I helped organize a candlelight vigil to demonstrate unity in our common cause that all people deserve dignity and respect. Local leaders, elected officials, and groups as varied as Campus Crusade for Christ and radical anarchists participated in the rally. I moderated the open mic session for healing, addressed local news stations, and helped craft two petitions we circulated at the vigil. One petition called for North Carolina to amend its hate-crimes bill. The second petition urged the public university system to expand its nondiscrimination policy.
These worked, and we won.
That victory, and that vigil, marked a turning point for my family and me. When people comment on our movements’ rapid successes of late, I remind them that while the past decade has been quick, the first fifty years were agony. It took us quite some time to build homomentum.
Yet in the wake of this year’s polarizing elections, I fear violent attacks like this will continue to escalate. Our President-elect, and especially his derogatory language, reminds me of the bigots who bullied me and hospitalized Thomas. I feel a responsibility to resist this regression and to summon Michelle Obama’s call to action: “When they go low, we go high!”
Point Scholar Win Chesson pre-election
As I’ve grown, I’ve learned that winning acceptance takes time and demands patience. It requires forgiveness, leadership, and the courage to take risks for what you believe in.
It often surprises.
This weekend will mark twelve years since I came out to my parents. Since then, I’ve witnessed unimaginable progress – not just for our movement towards fairness and equality, but for my family. Because of my family, I believe that change is possible. Their transformation, more than anything else, has been the greatest gift I have ever received. It is unexpected affirmations and small family triumphs that motivate my belief that hope will triumph over fear; that love will conquer hate.
The biggest surprise of all was my grandfather’s letter of resignation to a congregation where he taught Sunday school for over 40 years. The same Baptist church where my mom and dad were married.
This simple, yet bold profound demonstration of love and acceptance inspires me and reaffirms my belief that while change may begin in the communities closest to home, that is not where it will end.
This post was written by Point Scholar Win Chesson.
For his undergraduate degree, Win won a Morehead-Cain Scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he graduated with Highest Distinction. Now, Win is studying Public Policy & Business at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Win is passionate about social justice philanthropy and outdoor adventure. Read more about win here.