Finding Community, Finding a Role Model

Throughout the month, in partnership with RAVSAK, Keshet is celebrating 10 years of Hineini: Coming Out in a Jewish High School. As Eliana’s story shows, role models are an important part of the coming out process. We are so pleased to share this personal reflection from an incredibly bright and talented young person, who has found a space to be herself within the Jewish community.

October 11, 2015 was the first anniversary of my coming out, and I’ve loved my first year of being openly gay.

I’ve had lots of amazing experiences over the past year, including becoming president of Ohio State University’s Jewish LGBTQ student organization and being a CIT at the Keshet/Hazon LGBTQ & Ally Teen Shabbaton. I’ve also gotten the opportunity to answer honestly about my celebrity crushes, make lots of new friends, and speak out many times for the LGBTQ community. But I never could have imagined the incredible experience I had earlier this month.

In honor of National Coming Out Day this past month, Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court marriage equality case, came to Ohio State to share his story. He spoke about learning to accept that he was gay, his coming out during grad school, and how he fought for the right for his name to be listed as the surviving spouse on his husband’s death certificate. This fight ended up in the Supreme Court, and resulted in same-sex marriage becoming legal in all 50 states on June 26, 2015.

Eliana Dobres & Jim Obergefell
Eliana Dobres & Jim Obergefell

During his talk at Ohio State, Obergefell also spoke about the people who have come up to him and thanked him for what he’s done, and there was one story in particular that really stuck with me. At another university he’d spoken at, a student handed him a note that said “I am happy not in spite of being gay, but because I am gay.”

As someone who has worked really hard to be happy with my identity, I love the idea of an LGBTQ identity being a source of happiness instead of an obstruction to happiness.

And when I was in that room full of members of the LGBTQ and ally community, listening to a man whose courage improved all of our lives, I really did feel happy because I was gay. It was such a satisfying feeling—I was no longer merely tolerating or just accepting my identity, I was loving and celebrating it.

Obergefell considers himself an “accidental activist,” but to me and everyone else who heard him speak at Ohio State, he’s so much more: He’s the reason I can get married in my home state, he’s a symbol of how much progress we’ve made, and he’s a role model for anyone hoping to help change the world. Although he talked about how much we’ve accomplished, he also discussed the work we still need to do to achieve future goals. Some of the goals he mentioned were establishing non-discrimination laws that would protect LGBTQ people in every state and stopping the murders of trans women of color.

Listening to him talk about these objectives made me want to do more in the community to help make these changes happen.

After Obergefell finished speaking, audience members had the chance to take pictures with him, an offer I happily accepted. Faced with the opportunity to actually speak to him, I realized I simply didn’t have enough words to express how much his work means to me. Although I ended up only saying “Thank you so much for everything you’ve done,” I hope he knows how much I meant it. I am so honored that I was able to celebrate one year of being openly gay by personally thanking the man who helped bring marriage equality to all of the United States. I don’t think any coming out anniversary in the future will be able to top this one!


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