Leaving big shoes to fill

I was asked by the fine folks at Fresno Rainbow Pride to say a few words at Jeffery Robinson’s Celebration of Life service. The following is the speech I gave, edited slightly to make sense on paper vs in person.

*****

 I know so many people who looked up to Jeffery Robinson as a father figure. Others who started their advocacy journeys with him or through being inspired by his work. Still others, who count him as the very reason they are alive today. I myself have only known Jeffery a handful of years, and really only got close to him over the course of the last 14 months during the fight to Save Tower.

Though I never had this conversation with him outright, I believe Jeffery and I were kindred spirits. Though we only knew each other a relatively short time,  we still had a deep bond and I loved him greatly. I immensely valued him as a confidant and thought partner. And, the cool thing is, I’m fairly certain this giant of a man felt the same way about me. I say this as a person far more likely to assume everybody hates me than anyone likes me, so take that into account.

I realize, it’s quite possible I’m not that special. Maybe I meant less to Jeffery than I think I do. It’s possible he just made everyone he came across feel loved and seen and valued and heard. I think that’s just as likely a possibility. And if so, I marvel even more at him. At his genuine curiosity and investment in others’ well-being, his capacity for human connection, his ability for making the most closed off among us feel fully seen and understood, and for his agapic, nurturing nature in general.

I know many people credit Jeffery with helping them come out to their parents, transition through major personal and external changes, navigate what it means to be openly queer in a world that is not always kind to people that are thought of as other. I know many have fought alongside him, built nonprofits and events and community itself with him for decades. I know most of us understand, aside from the great personal loss of the man himself, there is an added layer of immense collective loss in having a person like Jeffery leave us far before his time. We mourn him and his legacy, and the fact that future projects won’t have his leadership and input and support.

My emotions have run the gamut this week, with my primary states oscillating between disbelief and overwhelming sadness. But I’m also really angry. I’m so mad that in 2022 our world is one where someone like Jeffery couldn’t spend his lifetime simply existing and enjoying it without having to fight so hard and tirelessly for himself and for others to simply love. To simply Be.

Though his talent and passion for community work and his heart for struggling youth were unmistakable, I’m angered that those talents and passions were so needed. I can’t help but wonder what all else he could have done and been if he were free to simply love his husband and be whatever he wanted without it being necessary for him – or people like him – to be our voices, advocates, leaders, fighters that they are for us through their lifetimes.

Queer people – and members of other traditionally marginalized communities – often have harder existences from the jump. I know I’m preaching to the choir here. Many of us are bullied. Misunderstood. Often estranged from the very people who brought us into the world. And then we spend our lives fighting against that absurdity, because the only other option is not to fight it. To let it win. And in the fighting, we endure more bullying. More misunderstanding. More estrangement from people who might otherwise see our humanity if they weren’t so susceptible to religious manipulation or whatever else makes them capable of hate and fear.

It’s no wonder – in historically marginalized groups like the queer community – that those who are not murdered outright or killed by their own hand often still have shorter life expectancies than people in groups who are not “othered’. And then these painstakingly-curated communities like this one right here – that are formed out of resilience and defiance and absolute necessity, these communities that are already vulnerable because of the very nature of their existence, are impacted by deaths of their community leaders and advocacy heroes with far more excruciating layers of grief because they need those people. Helping our youth, helping our questioning, helping our transitioning, and helping all of us untangle the great lie that we are somehow flawed or ‘less than’ or undeserving of love.

This is the part where I wish I had something hopeful to say, but our world is still pretty shitty and there are over 200 anti-queer legislation and amendments that people in our government are trying to pass through as we gather here today. So, the work, for better or worse, remains vital. And Jeffery Robinson is leaving some pretty big shoes to fill.

If you loved him, like I did – like I do- if you were in awe of his leadership and compassion and passion- and you aren’t already someone invested in this work, I urge you to best honor his memory by stepping up and becoming a volunteer or a donor or a community organizer or whatever it is that works best for your lifestyle and capacity.

I know some people thought he was from the old guard and not always supportive of the newer efforts happening in town. He and I talked about that and I want to be clear that he rooted for everyone. He would get annoyed when he saw young, excited new advocates begin projects without checking what resources and programs were already available, because sometimes by making a new group that does the exact same thing as another existing group, participation and funding and resources would be divvied up and split and then both programs ultimately fail. But he was thrilled to see younger generations taking up the torch. He was rooting for everyone. We are here because we all looked up to him… but also…he was so proud of all of us.  

I’ll close today by just saying I hope we all carry him with us, not just in our hearts, but in a way where we strive to live more like him, fight more like him, and perhaps most importantly, love a little more like him. We all owe him that. And through continuing the work and loving like him, we carry him not just in our hearts but through us and through future generations as well.

1 thought on “Leaving big shoes to fill”

  1. I was able to hear you speak these words at Jeff’s memorial in Tower. They were beautiful and heartfelt. Thank you for sharing them with us here. <3

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