It’s not difficult to picture a 13-year-old Amy Sarah Marshall standing up at eighth grade graduation, telling her classmates to forego their catty middle school tendencies and learn to love and accept one another. As the president of Cville Pride, and organizer of the city’s first pride festival last summer, Marshall is no stranger to forming and rallying groups around a common goal that she’s passionate about.
Marshall grew up in a “California hippie Christian theater group,” with actively religious parents who moved around a lot doing missionary work. A natural ringleader early on, she led Bible studies on the playground in elementary school, and was never intimidated by being one of the only kids in her family’s theater group.
At age 15, around the time her parents were going through a divorce, Marshall found herself falling in love with her best friend. It was, despite living in a liberal, forward-thinking area, a time long before Ellen Degeneres had kissed another woman on TV, and when the AIDS epidemic was all Marshall knew about being gay.
“It was very confusing, because we fell in love,” Marshall said. “But I also knew God is love, so it seemed like it was O.K. There’s nothing evil about love.”
Fast forward several years, through multiple moves, marriages to two men, a falling-out with her mother, and an eventual coming out, and Marshall stands by her teenage suspicion that there’s nothing evil about love. She’s out publicly for herself and her own happiness, but she said she’s also open and vocal about her sexuality for the sake of the kids and teenagers navigating the same rough road she found herself on.
“I want them to know there’s support, and give them a place of safety where they feel affirmed,” Marshall said.
Marshall recalled an instance a few years ago when she was volunteering with ROSMY, a Central Virginia support group for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender youth. She’s always had long hair and “dressed girlie,” she said, and it didn’t occur to her until about halfway through a meeting that the kids probably had no idea she was a lesbian.
“When I told them, all the kids looked at me and were like ‘No way!’” she said. “At that point I realized it was so important for me, looking the way I do and acting the way I do, to be extremely out about my sexuality.”
Marshall said she’s seen a higher level of comfort among LGBT youth around town since last year, like last summer when she ran into two teenage boys holding hands on the Rivanna Trail, something she never saw before the pride festival. People are becoming more tolerant, she said, but Charlottesville and Virginia still have a long way to go. “I want an embrace, acceptance, encouragement,” she said. “Not just tolerance.”