By Jason Rogers
Contributing TFW Writer
This weekend Arkansas was visited by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) national bus tour, “On the Road to Equality.” The HRC’s tour is designed “to spread the message of equality by educating the American public and empowering lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to become advocates for themselves and their families.”
During the tour, I met up with rising GLBT activist, Mike Manning. Mike is known for being a cast member of MTV’s “Real World: D.C.” On the show, Mike came out to his roommates, and the nation, as bisexual. Mike says that being on the “Real World” helped him come out and begin his work toward equality by working with the Human Rights Campaign.
“Isn’t it ironic that a shirt that said ‘AMEN’ is what brought me to start working with the Human Rights Campaign,” Mike said with laughter and a smile. He found the T-shirt while browsing in one of HRC’s stores. The owner of the store handed him a card and said that he should contact HRC and talk to them. When I asked him why he chose to travel to Arkansas instead of other states on the tour, he said, “If I can bring equality in Arkansas, then I can bring equality anywhere.”
When I was speaking with Mike, he was preparing to talk to youth at an event in Little Rock that was part of the Human Rights Campaign’s stop there. Mike is adamant that the movement toward equality depends on our youth. “Youth are the future for the movement. I want to inspire them going out and showing that we are exactly like them.” He went on to say that he wants to see youth go out and inspire more people in their communities, “I want them to go out into the ‘real world,’ no pun intended” he joked.
That’s not all he had to say when we were talking about issues related to youth. I mentioned the epidemic of bullying that the nation was seeing in regard to GLBT youth. When I asked if he had a message for those who experience such harassment in school, without hesitation he said, “Be who you are and don’t apologize for it. Bullying comes from insecurities. The people who do the bullying are the ones with the most problems.” Mike mentioned that he is familiar with bullying and opened up about his days in high school, before he was open about his sexuality. He and his friends would walk around school in their letterman jackets (honestly, how cute is that, letterman jackets) and would pick on other students who weren’t like him and his friends.
Since then, Mike has gone back to his hometown and apologized to the people he bullied in school. When I said that I found that amazing, he looked at me and said so honestly, “You know, I have to practice what I preach.”
It was amazing to see someone, who has only come out relatively recently, spreading so much hope and inspiration to so many people. His work, hope and love for what he does has encouraged his mother to start up a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) back in his hometown. “I never even knew that she was going to do it. She just went back and talked with other teachers and got one started. Her work that she is doing makes me so proud and makes me admire her even more.”
Mike also finds inspiration in the life of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person ever elected to a political position and martyr for the GLBT Community. “He inspires me into believing that anyone who isn’t political can make a difference. That when [Harvey] would say ‘You gotta give them hope’ I truly believe that is what we need to do. We have to give [the GLBT Community] that hope to keep going on.”
Mike has two other role models. The first one is Dustin Lance Black, an openly gay GLBT activist, and writer of “Milk,” the biographical film about Harvey Milk. He also wrote the Broadway play “8.” The second one is Pauley Perrette, a straight ally and GLBT activist and the star known as “Abby” on CBS’s hit TV show NCIS. Mike says that these two “are the ones that when I feel drained I think of their work and get inspired again.”
After hearing Mike talk about his past, both the bad and the good, his work with the Human Rights Campaign, and the ones who inspire him to keep going on — Harvey Milk, Lance Black, Pauly Perrette, and his mother (doesn’t that make your heart melt) — I admire him and acknowledge him as being a voice of generations.