My seven-year-old transgender son told me several months ago that he wants to be like Martin when he grows up. You know, the one who had a dream. I told my son I didn't know he was on a first name basis with the great Dr. King. I asked him to go on and he explained that he heard the speech about being free and equal. And he wants to be like that. To be like Martin. I don't think my son realizes what he's getting into with that career path. My son does not yet know the full extent of the discrimination he will face. He is too busy being happy and being a child.
There is no argument that could ever convince me that my son is not who he says he is. I have seen it first-hand. Others have, too. There is no traditionalist view that could justify the suffering and death of so many kids for the sake of "that's how we've always done it." There is no possible interpretation of our founding forefathers' intentions that would lead me to believe they wanted state-sponsored discrimination and segregation against our LGBTQ community. Or that our forefathers would ignore the tenants of equality and justice for all, the very basis of our independence.
Some say they don't understand why we just don't segregate transgender kids and call it a day. Apparently the lessons learned from our segregationist past and the struggles of our African American community are lost on many people. Separate schools, bathrooms, restaurants, even water fountains -- if you want to dehumanize a group of people, there is no better start than segregation.
Some say that my son's rights aren't civil rights. That we have no right to compare his battle to the civil rights movement. All my son knows is that when he learned about Dr. King, and what that great man stood for, he wanted to be like him. I want my son to be like him, too.
This isn't just about bathrooms. This is about the human condition. Our son is a boy. He was born that way, even though his body doesn't have boy parts. This happens sometimes in nature. It's not any different than a child being born with a physical limitation. Or with autism. Or with Down Syndrome. Or with extraordinary musical talent. Or with the ability to inspire a nation in the name of justice and equality. It just happens sometimes. It's life. It just is.
And our story is not unique. Thousands of families have nearly identical experiences to our own. Our experience is opening your heart and mind to marginalized communities and their challenges will make you a better human being. It will make your kids better human beings. If we just have the courage to stand up for those in need, we can make this world a safer place -- a better place -- for all.
Legislators have now brought the battle to our doorstep. You can add Michigan to the list of states with bathroom bills. In North Carolina, my son can be prosecuted for using the bathroom with which he identifies. Even though all the evidence points to the contrary, legislators continue to use fear as a weapon against my son and our community. They make it impossible for kids like our son to live in this world. They promote a culture that is divisive and intolerant to marginalized communities.
I've come to the conclusion that the backlash is perhaps the wake up call this country needed. Well, we are awake now. And by "we," I mean the sleeping giants. People like me and my wife, who hadn't gone public with the fact that our seven-year-old son is transgender. People who have no connection to the LGBTQ community. People who hear the rhetoric and say enough is enough. People who already have too much on their plates, who now raise their voices in support of equality, common sense, compassion, and truth.
Just as in the days of the civil rights movement, the legislators and all those waging war on the LGBTQ community will be proven wrong. History will deal with them harshly. But the damage they cause in the interim is long lasting, and can be fatal, in fact, for many in our community. People who cannot fathom living in a world that treats them as subhuman. And many of them kids. It is for them we fight. We cannot wait. I will not wait.
I was not born an advocate and I am not worthy to be called by that name. But I have seen the truth. I cannot unsee it. I have learned what it means to be marginalized through my son's eyes. I cannot unlearn it. I cannot be silent. I will not be silent.
My voice joins the thousands -- the millions -- of sleeping giants who are now awake. And the despair I had just a short time ago is being replaced. By confidence. Not just hope, but confidence. I am now certain America will become what it is capable of becoming. The light. The beacon that we claim to be, when we preach to the world about liberty and fairness. The fire that has inspired so many to give their lives in the pursuit of the American dream.
Our son has a dream, too. A dream that I am now certain will become reality. A dream that will not meet its end on the legislative floors of state houses. A dream that will not be crushed by those selling fear. My son's dream will live because it is shared by all those who have been oppressed since the beginning of time. It is shared by those beautiful souls who were lost in Orlando. It is shared by those who have been marginalized, by birth and then by society. It is shared by those who have empathy in their hearts. It is shared by those who understand the nature and value of diversity and how we are all different in so many ways. And yet the same.
We are a nation grieving. Again. Orlando is suffering. Our nation is suffering. Our hearts are breaking. But we will remember those beautiful souls. We will honor them. And we will make sure their dreams of a better world come true.
We can all help. When we unite and stand up for equality and justice in our towns and in our states, we give life to the dream. But we cannot wait. I will not wait. I ask that you join me. #WeAreOrlando
Peter Tchoryk and his wife Sarah live in Dexter, MI, and have three children and two grandchildren; Peter is the CEO of Michigan Aerospace Corporation and Springmatter, and Sarah is a 5th grade teacher. You can find more on their story at Embrace.Today.