Born and raised in Charleston, Melissa Moore is currently the executive director of We Are Family, an organization that provides resources to LGBTQQIAA youth aged 16-23. She has also held positions with S.C. Equality and the Alliance for Full Acceptance.
When I was at Wando High School, I had kind of figured out that I was a lesbian. I had my first real crush on someone in high school, and I came out about it. I was out of the closet about it, but I guess my thoughts about being gay were that it was something that could be changed, like an addiction that’s hard to quit, but it never occurred to me that people could fight for their rights or that I would even have any rights as a lesbian when it comes to dating people of the same sex.
That all changed I think either the summer between high school and college or my first year of college. I was driving down I-26 and I saw a sign that said homosexuality isn’t the problem, prejudice is. It was one of AFFA’s first billboards. And that was the first time I think it’s ever occurred to me that I had every right to be a lesbian and that maybe it wasn’t a disorder or an addiction or something that needed to be changed. It’s something that is just as normal as being heterosexual and I have a right to be happy that way.
A couple years ago, in 2010, I got a call from someone who was on the board of We Are Family. They were looking for someone to come in and run We Are Family, which I was immediately on board with, because growing up in Charleston as an out lesbian in high school was probably the most isolating, hardest thing to do. It was really hard because I felt like I was the only person who understood what I was going through. So it seemed a natural fit for me to come into We Are Family and help other LGBT youth now. And in fact, one of our young people started the first ever gay-straight alliance at Wando, which is my high school, so I was so happy to be able to support someone in their teens to start something where I grew up.
I remember back then, to think of having a campus gay-straight alliance was really unheard of. When I was in school at Wando, there was really severe bullying going on, especially with my group of friends. I was the only out lesbian in the group, but I hung out with the nerdy artists, and another group would throw things at the guys in our group and pick fights with them and call them faggot, just because they weren’t jocks. I was the only gay one in the group and they didn’t target me so much, but the guys in my group really got picked on if they didn’t fit into that macho male norm.
Back then, Wando did not have a very good policy on bullying. Now, I really have to commend Wando and the Charleston County School District for all the strides they’ve taken to make sure that the kids in their schools aren’t getting bullied, especially gay kids. They’ve really done a lot. That wasn’t the case when I was coming up. I felt like I didn’t have anybody to talk to about it. I was told by adults in my life that I was going to hell, that it was something that could be changed. There were points I felt so isolated, and that was a scary feeling as a young person. Today, working with the kids that we have in our group, they’re some of the smartest, the best, and the brightest in their schools, and I think it really helps them to have a place where they can be with other kids who are just like them or where they can come and be whoever they want to be that day and no one’s going to judge them for it. It really gives back to me and it helps me to heal in a way, to be able to provide a safe space for kids, because I can see a lot of myself in them.
They may come to the group for the first time feeling isolated, but once they’re there, I think that all melts away, because it’s a place of hope. It’s a place where they can see other kids and be like, “Oh we’re cool. We have our own little group here and we’re not so strange or different.” They don’t feel isolated when they’re in the company of their peers, and then we bring in people who are examples of people who have grown up healthy and who are in healthy relationships.
And I’ve learned [from the kids] that I’m more conservative than I’ve ever thought I was. I thought I was so progressive, but that’s not true. They’ve really pushed my comfort levels in a good way as far as ideas of gender and the gender binary and things like that. I feel like the revolution of the day, this generation’s revolution, is a revolution of gender identity and what it means to be a human and not just man and woman. The notions of the masculine male and the feminine female are just being completely deconstructed by this generation. And it’s in a really good way, because none of us ever really fits into those boxes perfectly 100 percent of the time, and I think a lot of people have a lot of stress and pain and anguish over not being masculine enough or feminine enough. I feel like this generation is really helping people to feel comfortable being who they are without having to worry about those constrictive boxes that gender puts us in.