Dear Mom and Dad,

Thank you for not exposing me to hate. Thank you for allowing me to experience love. Thank you for explaining to me that gender, race, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs do not define a person, but character, sincerity, drive, and love do.

There was one day I was at my Grandma’s house. I was partaking in my normal after-school activity: watching Ellen on TV. A friend of my grandma’s' granddaughter was over that day. She explained to my seven-year old self that she was not allowed to watch Ellen. I was appalled. What was wrong with Ellen? The little girl went on to tell me that she wasn't allowed to watch Ellen because Ellen is gay. How did this seven-year old girl associate being gay with being wrong? Her parents forced her to adhere to a set of beliefs without allowing her to think for herself. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for teaching me that being different is perfectly okay.

Fast forward two years. I was now in the fourth grade. I had a teacher that I adored. He was enthusiastic, spunky, fun, and he genuinely cared about his students. I made it through fourth grade, loving every day being in his class. It was sometime in the middle of fifth grade, where I was informed he was gay. I asked my mom that day why she never told me he was gay. She simply said “Does him being gay change your feelings toward him? Does him being gay affect all of the knowledge you gained from being in his class?" Obviously, my answer was no. I loved him as a teacher because he was good at his job. The fact that he was attracted to the same sex, had nothing to do with him being an effective teacher. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for teaching me what really defines a person.

Move ahead 11 years, and my favorite person in the world, my best friend, is a gay male. I adore him, and I love how determined he is. He works hard every single day to accomplish his goals. He puts a smile on my face every time we are together. Does the fact that he is gay stand in the way of him being a genuine, caring and fun person? Thank you, Mom and Dad, for teaching me to love and cherish those who are different from me.

Thank you for not forcing me to declare a specific religion. Thank you for not requiring me to follow a set of guidelines from a book. Thank you for allowing me to define my own values and beliefs. I was seven the first time I asked my parents to take me to church. I was eight, the second time I asked my parents to take me to church. Both times, my parents arranged for me to go. After the second time, I did not ask to go again. Instead, I asked questions, and you provided answers, so thank you. You allowed me to make my own decisions regarding my faith. Thank you for instilling values in me that I couldn't grasp from a sermon or a book.

I grew up not judging others based on what they did or didn't have. I was taught there are always people who have it worse than me. Empathy wasn't something I could learn on Sunday morning. It was something I experienced. While in school, I was taught not to judge other students based on their shoes, or clothes. For all I know, that could be their only pair. Their parents could have worked non stop to afford those shoes. It was not my right to judge them. When I did stray away from my values, you, Mom and Dad, were always there to bring me back into perspective. Thank you for pushing me to be a good person and do good. Whether it be loaning a hand to someone in need, or simply putting my trash in the garbage can. Thank you for allowing me to articulate my own beliefs and values.

Lastly, thank you for empowering me. Thank you for teaching me to fight for what I believe in. Dad, you always taught me to work hard to achieve my goals. I was taught that I am my own creator of my destiny. If there was something I wanted, then I better work my ass off to get it. No one is going to put in the work for me. Thank you for raising a strong, independent woman. Thank you for not only hearing me, but listening. Every since I was little, arguments have always sparked my interest. Whether it be a full blown screaming match in the dining room over abortion rights, or a more civilized discussion over global warming. You have always heard and respected my opinion. You never punished me for thinking a certain way. You never degraded my opinion. Thank you for not judging others. Thank you for not judging me.

Love,

Your Grateful Daughter