By Jon Cohen
I have lived in Florida my entire life. I am a product of Florida public schools and a close-knit Jewish community. I remember growing up and knowing I was gay in kindergarten. I don’t even know how I knew, considering I had never seen or heard about LGBTQ+ people before. It wasn’t until high school that I met my first openly-gay person when my friend introduced me to her uncles: partners for 20+ years with no legal protections in our state. It was also high school when I first became politically active and started to hear first hand the hateful rhetoric from politicians and people about who I was and who I loved.
I was a 15 year-old with braces outside a voting site advocating for same-sex marriage in Florida and an increase in funding for public school education. Parents berated me as a teenager about same-sex marriage being the end of society and told me that I was too young to understand what I was advocating for.
Now as an adult, eight years since same-sex marriage was enacted into law, and one year after the signing of the Respect for Marriage Act, I am so proud of my younger self for fighting for what I knew in my heart then was true: those people were wrong. The advancement of civil liberties only meant the end of society as they knew it.
Growing up LGBTQ+ in Florida, and in many states in the United States, means growing up listening to people debate your very existence. It means being told you’re going to hell before you’ve had your first kiss. It means people you don’t know will make decisions about your everyday life and that you will feel like there’s nothing you can do about it.
The current rhetoric about trans youth and LGBTQ+ people is dangerous, reckless, and hurting everyone, not just queer people. But I no longer feel like a politically-powerless teen. I am Keshet’s Director of Community Mobilization and I fight alongside my community for my rights, those of the entire LGBTQ+ community in Florida, and those across the country. I am part of the 85% of American Jews that support LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination and I get to mobilize them for action every day in every state.
The wins have felt few and far between lately, and there have been people telling me to leave Florida. Respectfully, I am not leaving. I can’t be legislated away. Florida is my home and I intend to stay and continue to fight with the powerful, inclusive, and loving Jewish community that I have grown up with and continue to build.