The summer of 1966 was a long time ago, but I remember it like yesterday. Why? Because it changed my life.
My name is Craig Wilson and I was an AFS student to the UK that summer. I was also a teenager struggling with my sexuality. Who the hell was I? I didn’t quite know. Not yet.
All of us who have had the honor and privilege to be an AFS exchange student know all too well how it changes your view of the world and yourself. It opens up more doors than you knew could be opened.
The best part about living abroad, of course, is getting out of your niche and getting to look at the world in a whole different way.
When I left the family farm in western New York that summer I pretty much assumed everyone was white, a Methodist and conservative. Republican, too! There were no gay people to be seen. Or so I thought.
I didn’t come out that summer of ‘66, of course. That was way down the line. And if I did meet a gay person or two along the way, I’m not sure I would have known. But of course I met gay people. We’re everywhere.
I went on to college – where there were a few openly gay men who both intrigued and scared me – and then I went on with my life, coming out years later.
Looking back on it all now I realize AFS made it easier because I learned the world was full of diverse people. Different skin colors. Different religions. Different sexual orientations. They were all in the mix. And now so was I.
My career in journalism opened the world to me even more. There’s no more diverse place to work than a newsroom. (I could tell you stories!)
I ended up working at USA Today for 30 years, a feature writer who travelled across America and the world, interviewing those who make life interesting.
I also wrote a weekly column about daily life, and that included my life with my partner/husband of 35 years, Jack, and our world in Washington, DC.
I often say my column was popular because it wasn’t a “gay” column. It was just written by a gay man. It wasn’t political. It was just every-day life readers could relate to.
That everyday life included volunteering for AFS over the years, interviewing prospective students, attending AFS conferences, and now sitting on the President’s Council the last couple of years.
So I’m beyond pleased AFS is opening its arms to the gay community, participating in the Pride march in New York City later this month and offering its Pride Scholarship to a gay student.
And why not? AFS has always meant diversity. Sexual orientation is just part of the mix, as it should be.