Equality Now: Mikey Adkins fights for gay rights

Sporting an over-stuffed back pack, a button-up American Eagle shirt and a stain on his straight-leg jeans from a late-night Chipotle run, 21-year-old undergraduate Mikey Adkins perfectly resembles his fellow 20-something peers at Northern Kentucky University. The vibrant buzz of conversation and loud, jocular cheers between passing friends breaks the groggy morning’s silence, yet Adkins says more than a crowd of 100 of chatty students even though his mouth is taped shut.

Adkins holds himself proudly — his back is straight and shoulders aligned — in the center of 50 student activists. Above his head a poster in his clenched hands reads: 33 million cases worldwide. The poster next to him reads: 25 percent of HIV+ Americans don’t know. Another sign reads: 33,000,000. His mission is to campaign the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population (LGBT).

What his poster can’t express in bold permanent marker, the duct tape over his mouth silently screams. Making the campus aware of the HIV crisis is another contender in Adkins’ fight for equality. It’s a fight he has no intention of losing.

“I’m willing to go out on a limb to say that the majority of people in my age group feel that we should have equality,” Adkins says. “But there’s a step between feeling like that and acting upon it because it’s not enough to just change your Facebook status (in support of equality) – you have to go out there in the real world and get things done.”

Adkins admits the first step is difficult. He came close to his own defeat before his fight even began. His attempts to create a gay-straight alliance during years spent at Scott High School in Taylor Mill, Ky., were unsuccessful as his first adviser was fired and his second adviser quit.

“My adviser ended up getting fired in this very shady situation but they swear it wasn’t because she is a lesbian,” Adkins says. “They would not have fired a heterosexual teacher over the same thing because it has happened before.”

When he wasn’t facing opposition, he was facing a lack of support.

“I felt like I couldn’t get anything done,” Adkins says. “Even coming to Northern Kentucky University I thought the best I could do was be ‘out’ and that would be my contribution.”

Adkins participated in the National Equality March in Washington, D.C., to advocate equal protection for LGBT people in all matters governed by civil law. The march left him with the “spark” that continues to light his eyes at the mention of equality.

The streets were dressed up for the occasion by the steady movement of a hundred rainbow flags being marched across the concrete. Hoisting a multi-colored flag high against his shoulder, Adkins found his place among the sea of white and purple shirts that spread across the capital’s streets. Adkins donned a shirt labeled “I’m here to recruit YOU,” quoting Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office. Adkins’ attire also echoed the political and gay activism of Milk in the form of a black armband with a pink triangle. The constant sight of the back of Adkins’ shirt was a reminder to his accompanying students of Adkins’ position at the front of the group leading them forward in their march.

The Westboro Baptist Church, opponents of LGBT rights, challenged Adkins as he passed the street corner where the church was protesting the march. Adkins received the comments of the church with an ear that listened to their complete argument and returned with a tongue that crafted questions instead of assertions.

In the face of opposition Adkins kept his composure, according to his fellow advocates.

“They had signs that said ‘Gays are going to hell’ and ‘America is being punished for allowing gays’ but Mikey was very calm about it,” said Stephanie Mathena, Adkins’ friend and student at NKU. “He understands other people’s deci- sions and accepts everyone else in the way he wants to be accepted.”

Within a month of returning from the march, Adkins contacted a student adviser to create a Northern Kentucky chapter of Equality Across America.

“Direct action was based on the concept that if you wanted to sit at the front of the bus you sit at the front of the bus,” Adkins says. “The problem with the gay liberation movement is that there’s no one person telling us we can’t sit at the front of the bus, so how do we oppose it?”

Adkins answered that question in more ways than one. Among the accomplishments he has made with his student-based organization, NKY Equality Now, Adkins and his group collected 689 signatures petitioning Rep. Geoff Davis and Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to acknowledge the state’s population of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders.

The organization is also known for their demonstrations countering campus-visiting preachers. The group provides Norse students who disagree with the message of the preachers a way to respond without confrontation by setting up tables to answer questions and present images of well-known LGBT who counter the preachers’ claims that homosexuals are inherently wrong.

“I think they do a pretty fair job of bringing the issue to the campus,” says Sean Harkless, junior Theatre major. “They should be fighting for what they believe in the same way we do.”

Equality Now meets on the first Friday of every month in the Student Union at 6 p.m. With a number of events planned for the Fall 2010 semester focused on outreach and collaboration, the group plans on confronting the issues of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy within the military, and banning of blood donations from gay men.

Among NKY Equality Now’s list of on and off campus events, the group will also be in the beginning stage of starting an outreach campaign to activate LGBT high school leaders.

Students are welcome to attend meetings to voice their comments and suggestions for the group as well. Students wishing to become a fan of the organization can join the oth- er 332 already-existing fans on their NKY Equality Now Facebook page, as well as follow along on Twitter and WordPress.

An unbending grin fixes itself upon Adkins’ face when he sees new people wearing a purple “Hetero for Homo” shirt on campus to show their support – a design which Adkins’ brought back from the march.

If the face is unfamiliar to Adkins at first, it usually does not remain that way for long. And, in almost as short of a time, the unfamiliar face becomes the face of a friend.

“To be proud of the fact I’m gay is to be proud of where the LGBT community is going and the accomplishments people can make when they work together,” Adkins says, with hints of a smile developing on his face as he calmly speaks each word. “But if only LGBT people were going to fight for it, it would never happen.”

The spark of activism in Adkins’ eyes remains ever-present as he sets his sights on ensuring that NKY Equality Now is a stable institution within the university and that the organization’s cause can be passed to the next class. But NKU is only one university in Adkins’ greater vision to establish a direct action non-profit group that will work hand in hand with universities using the concepts of direct action.

“The equality a gay person asks for – the right to choose who they love and how they are going to live their life – is something that a straight person can relate to,” Adkins says. “Especially at our age, we’re fighting for that equality to live our lives.”

Story by Zach Grady