Key Words: Gay like me.

This past weekend, the SHSU Speech and Debate team saw a lot of firsts at our tournament.

It was our team’s first trip to the University of Arkansas – Monticello (you may know them from the KGB commercial about stupid mascots), several students advanced past prelims for the first time, and I did something I had never done before in over a decade of competitive debate: I went off in anger on someone in a round.

Over the years, I’ve heard some pretty ridiculous and inflammatory things during rounds, but I always took it in stride.

There have even been times where my character has been questioned and I’ve been personally insulted. None of it bothered me, up until this weekend.

We were debating whether history repeats itself, specifically concerning civil rights.

At multiple points during my opponent’s speech, he belabored his view that the discrimination that is happening to homosexuals now is insignificant when compared to the cultural intolerance faced by African-Americans. As he spoke, I became incensed.

My rebuttals to his points were overflowing with righteous indignation, exuding so much passion that the judge literally put her pen down and, like everyone else in the room, stared wide eyed at me as I tore his ignorant argument apart.

It must have worked, because not only did we win the round, but also several people including the judge asked afterwards if I was gay.

Now, objectively, prohibiting marriage is not on the same level as turning fire hoses on protesters.

But for my opponent, neither black nor gay, to presume that he could say that one form of discrimination was somehow less equal to another is outrageous.

How dare he attempt to tell someone that their denial of rights, something he had never experienced, wasn’t that bad?

Whether you’re made to drink at a different water fountain or prohibited from marrying a person you love, discrimination all has the same result: it makes you feel less than human.

Everyone else has the ability and the right to do what he or she wants. These things come by virtue of being a person.

So when you are denied the ability to do things people get by this virtue, there is only one conclusion: society views you as less than a person.

In 1959, a white man from Mansfield, Texas by the name of John Howard Griffin decided to find out firsthand what it was like to be considered less than a man.

Using a combination of medical treatments and sunlamps, he turned his skin dark enough to pass as a black man.

Spending several weeks in Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi, Griffin experienced the inequality felt daily by black men and women living in the Deep South.

His experiences, documented in his book “Black Like Me,” not only changed his perspective, but that of many others.

While we might never go as far as Griffin did to understand discrimination, the lesson from his text is still important.

Until we experience discrimination for ourselves, until we are hated without cause, until our most basic rights are denied to us, we cannot judge the experiences of others.

The important thing to remember is that there are still people, even in today’s society, that are regularly made to feel less than human.

We would all benefit from a nice long walk in another person’s shoes.

Oh, did I mention I’m straight?

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