A Daughter’s College Entrance Essay Brings the Battle for Marriage Equality Home

By, Emily Townley
Introduction by, Justin Ayars, JD

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If you’re a LGBTQ Virginian, you probably have seen the beautiful, smiling faces of Carol Schall, Mary Townley and their teenage daughter, Emily Townley, in the newspapers, on television and, perhaps, on the front-lines of Virginia’s battle for marriage equality. Emily’s two moms were plaintiffs in the now-famous Bostic v. Rainey case that helped bring marriage equality to the Commonwealth. Just three short years ago, this loving family—including Emily, who was just a young teenager at the time—was thrust into the limelight as Carol and Mary fought for equality, justice and love. As the case wound its way through the courts, Emily was taking history and math exams. As opponents of marriage equality were lamenting the “tradi­tional” institution of marriage and publicly lambasting her two moms as immoral sinners, Emily was learning how to drive. As she stood with her family alongside Attorney General Mark Herring in front of a sea of supporters, protesters and report­ers, Emily was overcome with joy… while also worrying about graduating from high school and getting into college.

The remarkable story of Carol and Mary—their love for each other and their relentless courage to battle an unjust system—is well documented and justly historic. What is less familiar is the story of their daughter, Emily. Last year, in her college application essay, Emily recounted how her family’s experience shaped her character, gave her strength and helped her find her true voice.

QUESTION:
Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

ANSWER:
It was cold on the morning of February 4, 2014, and I shiv­ered as I stood outside in the brisk Norfolk, Virginia air (of all days to forget my coat). There I was wearing my basketball sweatshirt over my nice, new dress. I felt awkward, stupid, and horribly underdressed as my family and I began our walk toward the federal courthouse. However, as we turned the corner, all thoughts of my attire left my mind. All of a sud­den we were bombarded by reporters and television crews taking pictures and asking questions. Then, up ahead I saw them- the angry mob of protesters, holding up their signs proclaiming that my family was immoral and my parents were not fit to raise me. It was then that I realized my own adolescent angst about my clothing was trivial compared to this battle.

Until the fall of 2013, my life had been average; my most noteworthy experience was tearing both of my ACLs while playing bas­ketball. Every­thing changed when my two moms became plaintiffs in the Bostic v. Rainey case, fighting for marriage equality in Virginia. I suddenly faced the reality that my family was suing the Com­monwealth of Virginia.

Not everyone approves of families like mine. Some people are of the opinion that our loving family is “unnatural.” Normally, these sorts of comments do not bother me because those who matter most to me are completely accepting of my family. But, now our lives were on display for all to see. Suddenly those ugly comments on the internet hurt me so much more because they were directed at us; it was frightening.

As intimidating as those comments were, it was easy to dis­associate them from real people. On the computer screen, they were just a username or a profile picture. In contrast, seeing these protesters standing outside the courthouse was an alarming experience. I stared in disbelief as they held signs proclaiming “history confirms that children do best with a mom and a dad.” My two moms are loving and caring people and hearing protesters say, to my face, that they were not fit to raise me was insulting. How could these people say this about my family? These protesters, who did not even know us, had the audacity to claim that we were abhorrent. I knew then that I had to speak out. I had to show them that we were a real family. I decided to speak at the press conference following the hearing of the case at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

My mouth was dry, my hands were shaking, and I was terrified. But I knew I had to stand up for what was right. I had to do this not just for my family, or all the other fami­lies like mine. I needed to do this for myself. It was perhaps the most daunting moment of my life; to stand in front of reporters, television cameras, and high-ranking government officials and speak my mind about one of the most contro­versial issues facing our country. It was a mo­ment where I could have shied away and become passive. Yet, stepping up to the micro­phone and looking out into the sea of cameras, I knew I was doing the right thing. I said what I needed to say, albeit shaking the whole time. Once I finished my state­ment, I felt relief wash over me. I had faced my fears and stood up for my beliefs. I felt power in my voice as I spoke.

It was important to me to let people know how I felt – to show that I have been raised in a loving and supportive family. Because of this experience, I have learned to speak my mind and not be afraid to stand up for what is right. I have most certainly grown as a person, and would not trade the experience for anything.

Steve Y