• Sophie Stekel

This Gay Girl is Going to Change the World


Marks at the rally in Bennett Park (Source: Courtney Marks Facebook)

LGBTQ+ advocate Courtney Marks stands on a rock in Bennett Park in New York City feeling like she’s about to throw up. She senses the weight of an entire community radiating through the shaking piece of paper in her hands. But she has a message and she must deliver it.


Marks is a 3rd year biology student at Stern College, the women’s campus of Yeshiva University, a religious Jewish school in Manhattan. Many of the classes at Stern College are taught by rabbis and professors who publicly preach that being gay is a sin punishable by death.


So when her friend approached her with the idea of organizing a march to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights on campus, Marks quickly agreed. “If they’re not seeing any representation, if they’re not hearing our stories, then how are they going to know that there’s a problem that needs to be fixed?”


Marks, who came out on Instagram in 2017, says she faces homophobia on almost a daily basis at school. She says her classmates notice her walking into class with her ripped jeans, men’s t-shirt, and backwards cap. She also has a sticker on her laptop that says ‘dyke’. As the only out student on campus at the time, she felt a responsibility to make sure her peers could say that they know someone who is gay.


Marks cried multiple times when writing her speech for the rally because it was difficult to re-live the homophobia. But once she was up in front of a crowd of people wearing “We, Too, Are YU” shirts and holding their gay pride signs, Marks realized that she’s fighting for this entire community and beyond.


As she said in her speech, “[Our teachers] speak about us in class as if we are not there, as if we are an abstract idea. As if our lives don’t matter…We are human beings who deserve basic human decency from our fellow students, our professors, our rabbis, and our university.” Marks only thought a dozen of her friends would show up to the march. In actuality, about 250 people came from across the city to support her and the cause.


Her hands quivered and her voice cracked as she delivered her roaring speech on that rock, but Marks believes that her raw emotion added to the rhetoric of her speech. “You could tell that it was real. This is not some political snuff piece,” she said. “This is my life.”


Despite the incessant hate she receives, Marks has not even considered transferring schools. “No one else is going to fix the problems that I am dealing with,” she said. “You have to take a risk, take charge, and put effort into fixing those problems; not just for yourself, but for everybody that comes after you.”


Ultimately, Marks thinks it is unfair to ask people to choose between their religion and who they love. Her attitude is, “you don’t have to be friends with me, as long as you treat me with respect.”


When asked about her title, Marks remains modest: “I don’t know if I quite deserve the title of activist yet. I don’t think I’ve done enough.”


Looking at how passionately and urgently Marks uses her voice to stand up for LGBTQ+ rights at only 21 years old, it is safe to bet that this gay girl is going to change the world. One march at a time.

 
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