I have cared about people all of my life. My earliest memory goes back to when I was around seven or eight years old and I stood up for another child who was being bullied and called names due to a disability. I put myself between her and a group of mean kids. That innate sense of love, the idea that I would offer myself as a shield and dare to speak out against injustice rose up in me like a lioness protecting her cub. It was the beginning of my activism and advocacy. I’ve been doing so ever since.
I came out to myself and my family as a lesbian in my early teens. Not really knowing what made me feel different, but fully understanding that I was. I searched for a language to explain my difference and in a ninth grade health class I learned the word lesbian and felt immediately at home. I embraced that word and myself. And I LOVED me. I was fortunate enough to attend Cass Technical High School, where individuality, community and excellence were nurtured. I met others that were different like me and we became a family of young people – fierce, fearless/fearful and OUT. We remain a family today.
Being an activist who is fierce, fearless/fearful and OUT became the foundation on which I built my life. No matter what work I’ve done, I’ve performed it within a framework of activism and advocacy with a strong sense of social justice, and civil and human rights. Whether I was managing physician practices, volunteering with youth, assisting senior citizens, supporting lesbians living with cancer or traveling the South fighting for the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people and those living with HIV/AIDS, the work has always been about speaking truth to power. It is always about seeking justice and being a voice for the silenced, the fearful and the most vulnerable.
After 20 years of experience as an activist and advocate around this broad range of issues, preparation and opportunity crossed paths and I, along with a team of ambitious supporters, set out to take a seat at the table of decision making by running for Georgia State House of Representatives District 58. Not only did we win, but our campaign solidified me as the first African American OUT lesbian to serve in a State House in the United States.
As State Representative, I continue to do as I did so many years ago for that young child with the disability, placing myself between the people whose voices are silenced and legislation and policies that are regressive and seek to destroy. I champion causes and legislation that lends itself to fostering a more just society for the issues dearest to my heart: workplace equality; access to affordable and quality health care; fighting HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination; safe and effective schools for ALL students; youth empowerment and women’s issues.
I am so thankful for the amazing people who nominated me for this prestigious award. I appreciate their kind words on my behalf and their continued support. I am also very thankful for the White House for creating the Champions of Change program. It’s pretty awesome to be recognized for simply being who I was born to be – fierce, fearless/fearful and OUT!
Simone Bell is a Georgia State Representative.