I looked down at the three LGBTQ encyclopedia volumes donated to the LGBT Center of Raleigh in my name and could feel the lump form in my throat. Stoicism and I have a complicated history, and I’m usually able to buck up and tough it out. But these three shrink-wrapped books laid waste to any resolve I had not to cry. Maybe it was my vodka cran. Maybe it was the chilly weather. Maybe I was a gay, unhinged.
No; not really. What crystallized in that moment and got the waterworks going was the realization that my family had made tangible their complicity in the fight for LGBTQ equality. My family has been behind me for six years, since the moment after I sat across from them at our dining room table, summoned the courage, and squeaked out, “I’m gay.” But these books were something else. They were a call to arms.
A call to LGBTQ allies: “Y’all are up to bat!” With the passage of the anti-LGBTQ bill through the NC Senate last Tuesday, on the heels of a well-attended rally against the amendment, it’s more evident than ever that we need support, not just from renowned equality groups, but from every single friend, relative, acquaintance, and coworker. Sometimes the LGBTQ community can be overly insular, a leave-it-to-us mentality undoubtedly borne from historical precedent. Bigotry targeting LGBTQ individuals has tracked through time: From concentration camps, where pink and black triangles relegated LGBTQ individuals to some of the most intensive, tortuous work details; to the streets outside the Stonewall Inn, where emotional thresholds were reached and trampled over; to last Tuesday on Halifax Mall, where I stood with friends and supporters rallying against bigotry being ensconced in constitutional terms.
Nothing is accomplished by looking dejected and shaking your head when you hear news defaming LGBTQ individuals. To effect real, meaningful change, you have to act. Whether that means contending with a bigot bullying someone, or driving that extra mile past Chick-fil-A to eat at an establishment that doesn’t discriminate against a minority group, you have to commit wholeheartedly; there’s no room for half-assed activism. You may not think little things like that do anything. But for every persecuted person who learns they have allies in strangers, for every cent that goes into the pockets of another business that promotes equality in lieu of funding discriminatory legislation, we all become stronger. We show the bigots that we’re still here. That we’re not going anywhere. That it is they who will have to leave.
I’m not asking much–only to do your part. Everyone can. In the wake of the NC Senate’s vote, I’ve been heartened by responses from my straight friends, new and old. Some of them have had their eyes opened; some have had enough of the hateful rhetoric. One even sparred with a coworker over the issue when the subject came up in my absence. Yet some allies act as though it’s not their battle. Perhaps it’s a matter of reflexivity: they subscribe to the notion that “I’m not part of the community, so why should I care?” While you may not be, you likely know someone who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community. You may have children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, godchildren who are questioning. Take action for them, for those who haven’t yet found their voice. And when you feel that slightest bit of hesitation to take up the activist mantle, just imagine a legislator pointing to your loved one and declaring, “You are not my equal.” Let that sink in. Think about how such hateful ignorance has reverberated through time, and what problematic practices and events have been guided by it. And imagine that being inflicted on someone whom you hold dear.
It’s not easy to be different. I can surely tell some tales. And it’s also not easy to stand with the minority. But the fact of the matter is plenty of people are doing just that, and are becoming more informed and are reaching more people. My mother is attending a conference with other parents of LGBTQ children to promote LGBTQ tolerance within the Catholic Church. One of my dearest friends told me that she plans to collaborate with other educators to initiate the formation of a Safe Space at her university. And another friend told me today that she is becoming a volunteer at the LGBT Center of Raleigh; she’s no longer content to watch the show from the sidelines–she’s had enough.
Unknowingly, each of these brave individuals may be saving the lives of those who feel as though they have nowhere to turn, who’ve become victims of silence. Silence is bigotry’s bedfellow and deafens more than a hundred Westboro bullhorns. Because in that silence, people are lost; they are forgotten; they are deemed unworthy of support. Moreover, overt, senseless violence and apathy share a disturbingly thematic thread: an inability to empathize, to realize the consequences of what you choose to do or not do. If you see or experience injustice, do something about it–devote your voice to chants of LGBTQ solidarity, informed debate, and biting wit requisite of ripostes to close encounters of the bigoted kind. Don’t back down to hate. Fear-mongers spewing hatred deserve to be called on their accusations. Because their arguments have no legislative or constitutional grounding; it’s all theological, which has no place in government.
Now, nothing I’ve written is groundbreaking, and I didn’t intend it to be. I’m not a bleeding-heart liberal; I’m a hemorrhaging liberal. Because I hope the mess will attract some attention to the scene and prompt others to ask why I’m bleeding out so forcefully. And I’ll tell them, let them chew on my message–really digest it.
And hope they’ll do something about it.