Today I woke up and was 30 years old.
Some of my friends told me that life ended at 30, so they will be surprised (and hopefully a bit relieved) to know that I did in fact wake up today. Other than the fact that my phone had 43-text messages that were sent between 12:30 a.m. when I fell asleep and 7 a.m. when I woke up, it was a fairly normal morning (and I appreciated every single one of those lovely birthday text messages – thank you!).
As I have mentally prepared myself over the last couple of months for this milestone, I spent a lot of time thinking about the people in my life that are important to me and people who have made an impact on where I am today. I realized how many amazing people I have come across in my life and how much every interaction has meant to me, no matter how brief.
This then lead me to start thinking about people in my life that I have looked up to and viewed as role models. While there are many people, including my parents, former teachers and others that have shaped who I am today, I really started to think about the gay men that have been central parts of my growth.
A friend of mine recently said “It’s tough being gay - I really don’t think there are any gay males who I can look up to as role models." I thought about this long and hard and had to disagree. Sure, there may not be a lot of famous gay men to look up to, but that is partially because the media does not promote out, gay men as it should (I’ll spare you my critique of gays in the mainstream media for now).
I asked Ricky if he had any role models that were gay and besides listing me, of course, he enthusiastically began telling me about four men who have recently come into his life that he absolutely admires.
Ricky recently joined the San Diego American Flag Football League (which means my Saturday mornings are now completely taken over by carting him back and forth to games and post-game parties). He said he is impressed at the level of professional athleticism these men demonstrate and how this league totally overturns typical stereotypes of gay men. Ricky also told me about Ivan Solis, who founded the league, Jason Hefley and Mike Paganelli who serve as commissioners, and his coach, Michael Bobo, who are all men of integrity that are serious about their sport and work, but still know how to have a good time.
Since joining the league I have seen Ricky’s self-esteem boosted tremendously. These men have created a platform for hundreds of gays (and a few lesbians) to have a good time and feel good about themselves in a safe environment.
Then it dawned on me that there have been so many gay men that have helped me, been there for me, and influenced the things that I have done in my life. I won’t even attempt to name them all because I will be sure to leave someone out and that would not be good.
I will, however, always be grateful to Jeffrey Redondo, a former staff member at San Diego LGBT Pride. Jeff is the reason that I became involved with the LGBT community and taught me so much about it. While I don’t always ask for Jeff’s advice and opinions before I plan an event or make a decision anymore, in the back of my mind, I always sort of want his approval on the things I do within in the community.
Johnathan Hale, SDGLN’s publisher, is also someone I look up to. He started as a man with a camera taking pictures in the bars and now publishes two successful products, focusing on informing and entertaining our community. He has always given me fairly free reign within the company to do as I please and has supported my community activism for as long as I can remember, be it in the form of donations, sponsorships, or simple encouragement. I look forward to continuing to work with Johnathan for years to come as this company grows and hopefully flourishes!
I also appreciate people like Jeff Wergeles of the San Diego LGBT Community Center who takes time out of his very busy schedule to check-up on me every so often. We have coffee, he asks me how I’m doing, shares great advice about similar challenges he has faced in his life and really puts things into perspective. He has reminded me that 30 is an amazing place to be in life and not “death” like some of my 21-25 year old friends might think.
And the list goes on. I am thankful to everyone who has made an impact on my life, and I wanted to take this space to give a brief moment of thanks to all of these people.
We all should think about the people in our lives who have positively shaped who we are today and tell them thank you. As human beings, we need the support of others and if we all stick together, we will be ok.
I’m 30 – I’m still breathing – and I’m oh so thankful!
Ben Cartwright is SDGLN's Higher Education & Nonprofit Liaison and has been a campus and community activist in San Diego for over 10-years. His community involvement began as a student at SDSU and from there he launched into a number of other community activities. He has written for a number of local publications including Update, Hillquest, and GLT. Cartwright won the Lambda Archive's 2007 "Community Hero Award"; 2008 Nicky Award for "Outstanding Community Activist"; and a 2009 Nicky Award for "Outstanding Writer/Columnist".