From the Sidelines to the Front Lines

From the Sidelines to the Front Lines

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My name is Michelle Wright. I am 30 years old. I was born and raised in San Diego, California. I have two older brothers. I played college sports. I work for the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, a nonprofit that provides resources and advocates for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

I’ve been arrested.

Ok, I know, I know, I don’t look like the type that could be arrested with my sweet, unassuming smile and the glimmer in my eyes, but if you give me a moment of your time, I promise, I’ll explain.

You see it all began in October 2009, the California battle over Proposition 8 (same-sex marriage) immersed the newspaper pages (much like it is currently); a few months prior Fresno, California was the home to Meet in the Middle, a statewide call to action; a local organizer and her crew had just finished planning an LGBT national equality march on Washington, D.C. and yours truly had just come out of the closet.

It was a giant leap which catapulted me from the sidelines of my life – coaching softball and working a variety of non-fulfilling jobs, into the often times chaotic and demanding world of full-time social justice work and activism that I currently know. Before that fall day in 2009 when I declaratively stated to my friends and family that I was a lesbian, I was living deep in a world of shame. The typical story that many face when coming to terms with who they really are. I was tired of conforming and I knew that something had to change.

That’s when I headed to The Highlander Centera training compound in the pristine mountains of East Tennessee where they teach you that non violent civil disobedience can be used as a tool to help change the landscape of a movement. Stay with me. Over the course of a week, 45 organizers and activists from around the country were challenged –  to both step outside the realm that they had gotten comfortable with and to begin to see with new eyes. The experience was unforgettable. No longer could I look into the eyes of a stranger without wondering if this person’s story intertwined with my own, if they were the ally that I needed to transform this movement.

But anyway, back to my arrest…

A mere five months after my initial coming out period, I chose to act. March 18 to be exact. Seven people, including myself, participated in a direct action sit-in at then Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi’s Washington D.C. office.  Why was I sitting? I stood in unison with my brothers and sisters who, because of financial instability, fear of job loss or many other staggering circumstances, could not be in physical attendance. They had been silenced and discriminated against for far too long, finally they got the chance to speak. I was their voice.

We sat in tandem urging former Speaker Pelosi to bring the Employee Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) to a vote in the House. Through the passage of ENDA individual states would lose the ability to discriminate against LGBT Americans at the workplace.

The experience was frightening, but necessary. No longer could we conform to where society had conveniently placed us: in the background. We stood firm in our convictions as the 10 officers filed in, filled the empty space, arrested us and took us to Capitol Police Department, Central Booking. The four of us were charged with “Unlawful Entry- Remaining”, (a Federal misdemeanor punishable by 6 months in jail). We faced arraignment and through the support of our legal counsel, got 6 months probation with the stipulation that we were to remain out of trouble during that time.

As we broke free of the entrapment of the jailhouse, a feeling enveloped me. We had now written ourselves into history – becoming a part of the change that previous civil rights leaders had spoken about. The resounding words that I had chanted leaving the Capitol in handcuffs with my comrades were true: “I am somebody, and I deserve equality!”

For now, I wanted to share some of what happened (now that I’ve had several years to reflect upon it); as I saw it, as it fundamentally altered me on a deeper level taking what I thought that I knew and throwing it right out the front door. I am appreciative to those that made my coming out year plausible and as I told a friend, “Changing a life, igniting a passion that won’t ever go out, priceless.”

So please join me as I try my hand at capturing and documenting more articles that share of my lived experiences working within the LGBT movement and all the tangents that have taken place along the way. I know that at times it may be awkward; I guarantee that some stories will entertain you and I promise that I will always share my truth, as I’ve experienced it. So please, come inside.

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