He was the star quarterback of the Amsterdam Rams. He had a winning smile, broad shoulders, and a genuinely-nice demeanor. His name, fittingly, was Justice. And he was my first room-mate on a high school trip to the then-Soviet Union.

At that point, I was not comfortable with straight guys. My personality was much more aligned and in tune with girls my age – so when I realized I’d be rooming with the biggest jock of Amsterdam High School, I was just slightly less than terrified.

That first night, as I climbed onto the top bunk, we said maybe two words to each other. Literally, it was that quiet. No radio, no television, no small talk. Just silence – a long awkward night of silence. I look back at that night and wistfully wish I could have it back, because it was such a waste. The next day, in the company of others, we started talking.

For the first few days, we had a crash-course in American/Soviet history, visiting museums in Washington, DC, and sitting through hours of lectures that had us all nodding off right and left. Yet there was in-between time, on the bus or in our dorm rooms, where we could relax and just hang out, and in those pockets of waiting we slowly started to forge a friendship.

It turned out that my image of Justice as all-powerful sports star and high school jock was mostly in my head. In person, he was soft-spoken, quietly confident in his ability, yet also seemingly aware we were all on equal footing in a strange land. My intimidation gradually melted away.

At the end of the trip, I passed around a notebook for everyone to sign. For his entry he wrote that he really appreciated how much I opened up to him. It was the smallest of signs, but one that began the fissure that would lead me to be all right with being myself in front of others. That was so incredibly important, because one of the most damaging things a kid can be told, whether explicitly or implicitly, is that they are not free to be themselves.

Justice was never mean to me, and had anyone troubled me in his presence I’m hopeful he would have stopped it. Luckily, that never happened when he was around.

It seems strange to include him as a straight ally, since at the time I hadn’t even admitted to myself that I was gay, but I’d like to think that if I had, he would have been supportive.

Sometimes being an ally is as simple as saying a few kind words, and sometimes being a friend is even better.

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