Voices of the Yuba: Pride Edition featuring Maddux Eckerling

Voices of the Yuba: Pride with Maddux Eckerling

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Our first guest, Maddux Eckerling

Joining us for our premiere publication of Voices of the Yuba is Maddux Eckerling, activist and graduating senior from Ghidotti Early College High School.

He graciously volunteered to share his story and thoughts on queer identity, allyship and nature connection with the SYRCL audience.

You can connect with Maddux online by following his blog on Medium or Instagram.

Voices of the Yuba

“Voices of the Yuba” is a content series created to amplify the stories and experiences of individuals from the Yuba River watershed. Each individual’s story has the power to inspire understanding and unity, cultivating a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all who live here.

By sharing “Voices of the Yuba,” we hope to encourage broader conversations about the intersection of social justice, environmentalism, and community engagement.

Pride Edition

As Voices of the Yuba premieres this month of June, the Pride Edition specifically focuses on LGBTQIA+ voices, their stories, perspectives and connection to the Yuba River and its ecology.

Nature and the Rainbow Flag

The original LGBTQ flag, often referred to as the Rainbow Flag, was commissioned by activist and artist Gilbert Baker in 1978. Gilbert Baker was approached by Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, to create a symbol that would represent the LGBTQ community.

Queer artist Gilbert Baker preserved this 10- by 28-foot section of an original 1978 pride flag. 

GLBT Historical Society / Courtesy of Andrew Shaffer

The original design of the LGBTQ flag consisted of eight stripes of different colors. Each color held a specific meaning:

  • Hot Pink: The top stripe of the flag was hot pink, representing sexuality.
  • Red: The second stripe represented life.
  • Orange: The third stripe represented healing.
  • Yellow: The fourth stripe symbolized sunlight.
  • Green: The fifth stripe stood for nature.
  • Turquoise: The sixth stripe represented art.
  • Indigo: The seventh stripe represented harmony.
  • Violet: The bottom stripe symbolized spirit.

However, due to the unavailability of hot pink fabric, the flag was produced with only seven colors from left to right: red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, blue, and violet. This iconic design quickly gained recognition and became a widely recognized symbol for the LGBTQ community, representing diversity, unity, and pride.

Over the years, the Rainbow flag has become a powerful and inclusive symbol of the LGBTQ rights movement, representing the struggles, achievements, and visibility of the community.

It has been modified and expanded upon in various ways to include additional colors and representations to better reflect the diversity of the LGBTQIA+ community worldwide.

Many communities under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella have created their own flag to further represent queer identities.

Baker’s design has updated overtime to include BIPOC (brown and black stripes), transgender (pink, white, and blue stripes) and intersex (purple circle on yellow) communities.

Interview with Maddux

👀 Read or 👂Listen: provided below are transcription excerpts from the interview with their accompanying audio recordings.

Maddux, would you like to introduce yourself to the SYRCL audience?

Hello. My name is Maddux Eckerling. I use he/him pronouns. I’m 18 years old, and I’m a graduating senior from Ghidotti Early College High School. So, yeah, I’m excited to be speaking with you.

What inspired you to share today?

I’ve been out in the community for just over a year now as both an LGBTQ and mental health educator, activist, community organizer. And I’ve been really honored being able to speak at some events, and I’ve held a few events, and

I’ve really seen that the more that I talk about these issues that I’m really passionate about, I can see that it’s helping my peers. It’s helping those in my community. It’s bringing light to these issues. It’s giving people a voice that maybe don’t have a voice for whatever reason.

And so I’m able to use my privilege and my ability as a public speaker to share and to spread light on these issues, and it’s really helping my community. And so I’m just really honored that I’m able to speak on these issues that so many are unfortunately not able to speak on. And it’s a beautiful thing to see. My words and the things that I share touch so many people and help spread light and awareness on issues that so many other people are facing.

What are some of the things that have inspired you as your message opens things up for people and changes things in your local community?

Rainbow flags on display in Downtown Nevada City

Photo courtesy of @kitkitdizzi on Instagram

So the biggest thing that I’ve done is my senior project. On March 23, I held a community event at the Miners Foundry, where me and four other youth, we spoke about our experiences being queer youth in Nevada County, and we had over 260 people come and attend.

It was a standing room only. It was an incredible event. And still, months later, people are still talking about it. People are still referencing those things. People are still learning from the things that we taught them.

And when I see telling my story and then getting the conversation starting and listening to, people want to learn more and want to get involved and wanting to learn how they can be better allies. It just inspires me and wants me. It makes me want to keep going.

And then when someone says, hey, how can I be a better ally? And I tell them, start using your pronouns. Start complimenting LGBTQ people and making them feel seen and heard. And then I go out in the community and I see that happening, it makes me so excited.

Would you mind sharing a little bit about how growing up queer in Nevada County shaped your perspective?

So I didn’t start questioning my sexuality until 7th grade. I had a rocky 6th to 7th grade transition. My school closed, and then I moved to one school that didn’t work out, and then I moved to another school. And then when I got to that third school, that was when I started questioning who I was. And I did not grow up in a religious or homophobic household, but I did grow up in an American household in a rural community. And so we were taught that you get a girlfriend, you get a wife, you have kids. And so

When I started questioning myself and I started seeing boys in this light that I felt like I was supposed to be seeing girls in, I was like, “something’s wrong.” And what I tell people is, I didn’t start questioning my sexuality – I started thinking, “what’s wrong with me?” Not, “what’s right about me?” And it wasn’t until freshman year of high school when I started to accept there’s not something that’s wrong with me, but it’s just part of who I am.

And then I started coming out freshman year. I’ve been outed many times, which is a very uncomfortable situation for all parties involved. And I’ve also had some beautiful interactions when I come out and I’ve met so many incredible queer people. I’ve also struggled with mental illness. And when you bring all those things together and I see the different issues facing our community, that just really inspires me to want to get the word out and try and help other people.

What are you most passionate about with regards to mental health?

I struggle with depression and anxiety. Last November, I attempted to end my own life and spent ten days in the hospital. And so when it comes to my mental health activism, it’s really about just spreading awareness, because what I’ve been learning from my time in the hospital, my time in the school system afterward, trying to get support, is that people just don’t know.

And it’s the same thing with LGBTQ issues, it’s like people just don’t know. They’re not aware of the issues. They’re not aware of how they can help. And so what I really am passionate about is just starting the conversation, just getting people curious, to want to know more, to want to learn more, to want to be an ally. And once I can get those people to want, then I’m able to send them resources and send them the information so that they can learn, because there’s a lot of information out there. But the thing that’s lacking is getting people to want that information. And so I see my role as someone who wants to get people eager to get that information and then to connect them with the resources to receive the knowledge.

It sounds like just by sharing your story, you have an impactful way of motivating people to get involved and educate themselves – is that true?

The best way to get someone to want to know more is to see someone in the flesh. When people see me and they know me, and I start by just telling them who I am as a human, and then I tell them that I am queer and that I struggle with mental illness, then they’re like, oh my gosh. And they start to connect all these dots and they start to destigmatize and start to realize that there’s so much more to being queer and to having mental illness than what is portrayed in the media. And so when they realize that, they’re then like, oh, maybe there’s something else here. And so then they start getting curious and they start asking questions, and you can answer those questions with maybe, like, another question, and it just really gets them thinking and wanting more.

Are there any experiences you’ve had of sharing your story that really stand out to you?

Yeah, there’s a few. And there’s some on different sides, right? So there’s some that come from there was someone who was more of a conservative mindset, and they were not into hearing about new things. They didn’t want a lot of change. And they knew me personally. I know them personally. And so

When I was able to come out to them and able to start talking about my story, they saw me as so much more than just some gay person. They saw me as a human. And that allowed them to want to know more and want to explore.

But also I’ve seen it on the sides of helping people find themselves. I do a lot of work at my school and so many students, after we’ve been able to have conversations with them and really start the conversation in the school. They’re able to start accepting themselves because they’re realizing that what they’re thinking and what they’re going through is normal and that it’s not wrong or weird and that it’s just something that people experience. And so when they’re able to hear that and see that firsthand, they’re then able to help accept themselves. And so I think that’s been one of the most beautiful things that I’ve been able to see, is to see my classmates and my friends really come out of their own shells and accept themselves for who they are.

What do you think becomes possible for people when they’re able to open up to other people in the way that you were describing – possible for them and their lives, and the people that they touch?

It opens things up so much for them. Right. It allows for so many possibilities, so many more friendships, experiences, opportunities. It allows them to see the world in full color. Right. So many people are seeing the world as this black and white yes, no, right, wrong.

One of the beautiful things about queerness is that it’s just there. It’s fluid, it’s not wrong. There’s no right way to do it. And so when we’re queer in a space and we’re being fluid and just colorful and beautiful, it allows for people to see things as more than right or left or yes or no.

And they’re able to see things more fluidly and it just opens their eyes to so many more possibilities in so many different aspects of their life because so many things are not this or that and so many people go through their lives believing that. And so when you can open their eyes to the possibility of fluidity, you just open so many doors and so many different possibilities come to that person.

Are there any specific examples you would want to share, of possibilities you’ve seen open up for people?

Well, I mean, I can give you a personal one of me. So as I’ve been exploring my own sexuality and I’ve been exploring who I am, I’ve also been able to explore my own fashion. And so over the past few years, my fashion has changed dramatically, right? I’m starting to wear skirts and these other outfits that are just outside of the box and they’re just extra and they’re different and they’re fun, and I’ve been able to have a lot of fun with that.

When it comes to school, I’m having more fun with assignments because I’m realizing that I can look at things from a different perspective and I can take a different approach to different work that I maybe wasn’t enjoying. And I found that every assignment that I’ve done for school this past year, I’ve enjoyed every single one of them. Even in the classes that I have no interest in, I’m still finding ways to enjoy it because I’m able to look at it from another perspective, from a different angle, and it just opens up my mind to other possibilities and other ways of doing.

How do you feel your relationship to nature and maybe even the local ecology has helped to shape who you are as a person within your queer experience, or as a person in general?

Like I’ve been saying, queerness is fluid and it’s ever changing, and that’s something that I believe we have in common with nature. Right. It’s fluid, it’s ever changing, it’s ever evolving. It’s going through these seasons of beauty into. It’s always changing throughout the year over a course of many years. And it’s a beautiful symbolism for queerness because you can see it and you can see the change and interpret it sort of similarly to how people can experience queerness.

But also, it’s a beautiful place to meditate. It’s a beautiful place to go and to be queer and to be yourself in, because nature doesn’t judge. Nature doesn’t care who you are, who you love, what you look like. Nature just is.

And it’s beautiful, it’s calming. And I love to be out in nature. I love to be down by the river listening to the waterfalls and the birds and the breeze. And it’s a beautiful experience to just be there and to just experience it and just to let yourself be, to let your mind wander, to meditate. And so many brilliant ideas come while in nature.

Some of the greatest artists and poets of all time did most of their work in nature because it’s just such a beautiful place to be inspired and to explore yourself.

What inspires you most when you’re out?

You know, sitting by the river, listening to the waterfall and the birds with the breeze in your hair, it’s a beautiful experience. But I also love being in the water. When I was younger, I was the fish of the family as we would joke around because I would just every time we went to the beach, I was the first one in the water and they had to drag me out when we had to leave.

I just love being in the water, just swimming and floating. And it’s effortless. When you’re just laying there in the water, whether it’s cool or warm, it’s just effortless and it’s calming. It gets rid of all the stress in your body and it just allows you to just be one with the world and just relax. And it’s a beautiful thing.

How do you feel your connection with water, and with local ecology (or just nature in general), fuels and shapes what you want to do in this life?

So what I want to do in this life is be an activist and an ally, an educator. And so I would love for those things to be in nature, to be inspired by nature.

So many times when I’m stuck on an idea or I just don’t know what I want to be doing, I’ll just go sit outside and the sun and the breeze, it really helps clear your mind and it helps get you into a better place. When you’re stuck inside giving speeches or whatever and really working on creating some event, being able to then go outside and just relax and get renewed and reenergized, it’s a beautiful thing.

And so I think nature and I will continue to be best friends throughout my life as we have this relationship of renewal, reenergizing, and idea creation.

Is there anything that we didn’t touch on that you would want to share today?

I just think one thing that a lot of people have been asking me and I’ve been trying to tell people is, like, the question I get all the time is, like, how can I be a better ally? How can I get involved?

And the one thing that I should always say is just show up. Just come, be there. And I think that’s so true. Even in nature, it’s like – just go, just explore, just have fun, just be yourself, be fluid, have fun and let the world take you where it wants to take you because it’s beautiful and there’s no bad place to be when you’re outside and when you’re in nature. So what I say is just go. Just do it.

If anyone wants to learn more about you or your message, where can they find you?

So the only online presence I have right now, I have a blog, https://madduxeckerling.medium.com/, and I’ve been blogging on there about different issues and just continuing the conversations that I start in the different conversations that I have in the different times that I’m speaking. My Instagram is through there as well at https://www.instagram.com/samuel.m.a.e/. That’s where I post anytime I’m going to go and speak.

Share Your Story

Would you like to offer your message to a wider community in Voices of the Yuba: Pride Edition 🏳️‍🌈? We are still looking for Yuba lovers who identify as LGBTQIA+ to share their story in the coming weeks.

This is a fantastic opportunity to bring attention to the variety of LGBTQIA+ experiences in our local community, and shine a light on the intersectionality of human rights and environmental causes.

Please fill out the form below with a few details. One of our team members will be in touch with you via your preferred contact method.

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