Here's a wonderful column from my Miami Herald colleague, Fabiola Santiago:
BY FABIOLA SANTIAGO, FSANTIAGO@MIAMIHERALD.COM
Javier Aranzales, 17, has earned his optimism.
A senior at the New World School of the Arts high school dance program with a perfect grade-point average, he’s Harvard University-bound. A declared neurobiology major on a pre-med track, he’s one of 1,000 students nationwide selected to receive the Gates Millennium Scholarship Award, which will fully pay for undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees.
That would be enough accomplishment and reward to sustain him for a lifetime, but for Javier, who came to Miami from Colombia when he was five and last year became a U.S. citizen, this has also been an extraordinary week because he happens to be gay.
He knows what it’s like to be different, a minority within a minority, to feel, as he once did with his father, “that I wasn’t the son he expected me to be.” And so, when Barack Obama made history by becoming the first sitting president to endorse same-sex marriage, he gave young people like Javier something priceless, something that not even grades and scholarships can bestow: public, unconditional acceptance.
“This is a big step. This is a huge thing,” Javier told me. “We’re moving in the right direction and there’s hope for the future. This makes me really proud of America and what we can become.”
One could cheer and claim that, finally, the progressive candidate elected in 2008 came out of the political closet. Even if casual and a bit awkwardly delivered during an interview Wednesday at the White House with ABC News’ Robin Roberts, those were powerful words.
“At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” President Obama said.
Whether a wise political move or personal conviction, or both, as I prefer to believe, with his endorsement the president created the expectation of inclusion in one of society’s primary institutions. All the wiser a move given that his embrace came a day after voters in North Carolina approved a state constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriages. All the wiser given that rival Mitt Romney reiterated his opposition.
For the younger generation, the president’s words are more than a symbolic stamp of approval. Marriage equality is something they believe in, according to a March survey of the Public Religion Research Institute, which found that 74 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 29 support gay marriages. It is to people who have the courage to envision a more inclusive world that the future belongs. As Javier puts it, his generation is willing to do what it takes to “rise above our status of minorities.”
For now, the hard-won scholarships, which also include the Ford Salute to Education, mean that financial burdens won’t be an obstacle.
But not yet satisfied, he’s vying for the Point Foundation Scholarship, which provides mentoring and leadership training to students marginalized because of their sexual orientation or identity, and he’s planning to become an active member of the Latino and gay communities at Harvard.
“It’s a chance to be a part of their foundation and do good things,” Javier says. “The biggest thing for me is being an example for students, helping them see that it’s possible to follow your dreams.”