This I Believe: I am who I am.
On Oct. 6, 1998, two men attacked Matthew Shepard, a gay college student. They beat him, tied him to a remote fence post outside of Laramie, Wyoming, and left. Shepard died on Oct. 11. His story brought national attention to homophobic violence for the first time.
I was born 12 days after Matt died.
When I was in seventh grade, one of the kids in my youth group came out as bisexual. After he explained he was attracted to girls and boys, I just shrugged. I didn't understand why he wanted to tell us who he liked. I wanted to go play Frisbee. Looking back now, I wish I had said something. I feel bad for not supporting him, but I also understand it wasn't my fault I knew so little at the time.
Although I was born a girl, I felt out of place and uncomfortable. My body didn't seem to fit who I was. My Southern Baptist family never mentioned that people could be LGBT, so I never imagined that the acronym might apply to me.
Freshman year, I started meeting people from diverse backgrounds, including LGBT people, through social media. I still felt separated from everyone, but having people to talk to made me feel less alone. I started going by a more masculine name online. Hearing my online friends call me this new name thrilled me, though I didn't understand why.
It was the winter break of sophomore year when I realized I was transgender. I didn't tell anyone besides my online friends for nearly a year. My closest friends were the first to know, and they were more supportive than I could've imagined, using my new name immediately and apologizing whenever they slipped up. Teachers and counselors at school helped me find the right people to talk to. I told my parents. Though that didn't go over well at the time, they are working on accepting me for who I am. My peers are calling me by my new name, and my teachers are using my preferred pronouns. I couldn't be happier.
None of this would be possible without those who came before me.
This I believe: Too many people have been beaten and mocked and killed for me to hide who I am. This I believe: I shouldn't have to apologize for being who I am. This I believe: The LGBT community of today stands on the shoulders of Matthew Shepard and others who were killed because of who they were. I owe it to them to continue carrying on with my life, to experience the joy, laughter, comfort and peace they couldn't. In this, I believe.