The Center for Equality: Planning The Future, Changing The Present For LGBT Community

Article reposted from Keloland News
January 15, 2015, 10:05 PM by Brady Mallory

2015 is already a banner year for gay and lesbian couples waiting to tie the knot in South Dakota. Just this week, a federal judge ruled against South Dakota’s constitutional amendment banning marriage equality.

Josh Jaton’s friends gave him quite the surprise. While he was leading a meeting, they surprised him with a cake to celebrate his 18th birthday.

“Ahh, you spelled my name wrong,” Jaton said, laughing. True story. “Jahs” was written in jest on the sugary confection.

A person’s 18th year brings a lot of changes, and the potential for a bright future. Jaton is nearing the end of high school, and looks forward to college in the fall. He is certain he is achieving his goals, because when it comes right down to it, the Lincoln High senior is a planner.

“There’s only actually one weekday where I don’t have any after school activities,” Jaton said.

One of those extra curriculars is the Gay Straight Alliance. As president, Jaton is taking the lead in getting the club ready first youth gay pride in Sioux Falls in March. The event is a collaboration with the Center for Equality. Jaton started telling friends he’s gay when he was 15. There was not a big coming out party. He said he simply lived his truth, and slowly started letting others know. Support followed. Jaton’s very nonchalant about the whole thing.

“I was like, ‘Mom, I’m really happy right now,’ and she said, ‘Oh, why?’ I just said, ‘Oh, well, my, just so you know, I’m gay and, my boyfriend at the time…and I was like, ‘he just asked me out.’ She went, ‘That was really brave of you!’ And I was like, ‘Thank you!’ I was really happy to get that off my shoulders!”

These are success stories that are catching the eyes of the Center for Equality Board members. A valuable resource in Sioux Falls, the organization’s goals for 2015 include reaching out and working more with the youth, because not every LGBT teenager finds acceptance and support.

“Having a mentor, a lot of LGBT youth feel alone. They feel isolated. They feel like they are, and this is coming from personal experience as well, that there’s no one who understands my situation and they feel so alone and isolated, you know.,” Thomas Christiansen, VP of Center for Equality, said.

No one ‘gets it’ perhaps more than Christiansen.

“So, my family has not been supportive. I haven’t spoken with them for about a year,” Christiansen said.

Christiansen said he poured his heart out to his family in a letter, describing his struggle to accept himself, reconcile his sexuality with his Christian Faith, and the fact that he is finally happy being true to himself.

“The one response I got back was a Bible verse that said, ‘You will receive the due penalties of your error.’ It was very heartbreaking that that was the only response I heard back,” Christiansen said.

Christiansen said his experience is the driving force that leads him to help others. He and his colleagues at the Center for Equality made the organization very visible during 2014. Coordinating South Dakota’s largest gay pride event, expanding memberships, new office space, and growing financially are just a few accomplishments.

“Because we’re just one community. I think, in the past we’ve been looked at as someone kind of on the outside and now, as society norm has grown to where the openness to the LGBT community has happened. Especially here in South Dakota in the southeast part of the state,” Billy Mawhiney, Center for Equality Treasurer, said.

The organization’s other goals include strengthening outreach to the transgender community, focusing on education, and setting up a youth scholarship. Christiansen expects more success this year, and says pairing up with student organizations is more important than ever.

“You’re not alone. You’re not broken. You’re not a mistake and having them be able to thrive,” Christiansen said.

While Jaton says being an openly gay teenager has never been a problem, he knows it is still not like that for everyone.

“One of my friends, their boyfriend was, two years ago, actually, he committed suicide, because he felt so pressured from all those around him.” Jaton said.

No one can predict the future, so you cannot always plan for a certain outcome. The fight for gay rights may continue to be an uphill battle for a while longer. However, Jaton and the Center for Equality are certain they will achieve a big goal.

“To hopefully get equality for all,” Jaton said.

To do that, they are focusing on making changes in the present day.

© 2015 KELOLAND TV. All Rights Reserved.


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