Calling All Allies: Yes, You.

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.

Pride

With just a few weeks until the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots–the pivotal confrontations referenced as the impetuses for the US LGBT rights movement–I’ve noticed a gradual increase in Facebook posts by LGBTQ allies and LGBTQ individuals, the messages of which are infused with support and calls for acceptance. For those posts and those allies, I am grateful.

But one thing that gives me pause, not just with these messages, but in many rally speeches and calls for equality, is the attention given to people who identify as GAY–in all caps. GAY, not LESBIAN, not BISEXUAL, not TRANSGENDER, not QUEER. But GAY.

Debates about rhetoric plague every identity group and community, and the LGBTQ community isn’t immune. “Gay” has seemingly become the semantic blanket-term for all LGBTQ people, even though it most commonly references gay men. To map “GAY” onto these various identity groups adds to the welter of misunderstanding about how LGBTQ individuals identify themselves; only LGBTQ individuals can identify themselves as such, and decide if they want to be a part of a “community”–a term which is simultaneously inclusive and exclusive, a quintessential example of the us:them binary opposition entangled in one word.

And it’s when I start to deconstruct the nitty-gritty, ask myself the hard questions, that I come to realize the great differences within the LGBTQ community: the power dynamics, the alliances, the ambiguity. All too often gay men are given more attention than lesbians, and lesbians and gay men garner much more of the public spotlight than bisexual or transgender individuals. And then there are those who prefer to identify as queer rather than gay, lesbian, transgender, or bisexual.

Perhaps this “GAY” mapping is because it is “easier” for news anchors, reporters, and even members of the LGBTQ community to “get” the relationship between two men or two women than it is to understand a woman who has partners of different sexes, or an individual born male who identifies as female, who is in-transition to becoming the woman she has always felt she has been and is in a relationship with a woman who identifies as a lesbian. Identity isn’t easy; it’s always in flux. But everyone deserves recognition. We’re all people, with the only perceived differences between us being equal parts melanin and social stigma.

So, let’s not forget the “B,” “T,” and “Q.” Because between them and the “L” and “G” is where pride thrives, bound up in the connective threads that unite us, make us a community with committed allies, and not just jumbled letters. However you identify yourself, own it.

And be proud.

Billed

I should be in bed. But then I realize that tomorrow I, along with other second-class citizens, will fight for my civil rights. So, as sleep escapes me, I visualize signs and slogans, fists raised aloft in solidarity. All for equality. All for recognition.

But there’s something else bubbling beneath my insomnia: anger. As right and just as it is to take the high ground, be mature, channel reason and optimism in lieu of cynicism and doubt, what I really want to do is scream, “Wake up, bigots! It’s 2011!” And why shouldn’t screaming work for our side? After all, the slurs, taunts, and biblical verses conservatives blast through bullhorns resound in the halls of the state capitol, contorting a very straightforward decision into a sick, religiously-tainted, “morality”-governed bout of tug-of-war. But the victors’ prize isn’t a trophy; it’s the continued subjugation of a minority, the dissolution of their basic rights and privileges–the same afforded to drunken couples in Vegas drive-thru chapels, but denied to committed partners.

A variation of love shared by the majority should not be mapped onto us all or given precedence. After all, everyone loves another in multiple, complicated ways; there is no one way to practice love, no one way to express it. Love is nebulous and messy. But we all deserve to have it recognized, not just by our friends and families, but by the legislators and other elected officials that we, their constituents, look to as arbiters of justice and equality.

Hope as currency has been financing the LGBT community for decades. Let us all fund a better tomorrow.

Dear Bigots

Dear State Legislators:

Hi, I’m Matt. You don’t know me, but you think you do. You think you know how perverse I am, know my inner thoughts, my “agenda.” But, really, you’re just bored. And tired. Sad, really.

At a time in our country’s history when things have crumbled, I have the fantastical notion that we’d prefer to band together, not descend into divisive, dogma-directed attacks. But that’s what optimism gets you these days: false hope. In case y’all haven’t noticed, it’s 2011. Interracial marriage is legal, women can vote and are agents of their own bodies (at least during this administration). But that itsy-bitsy, persistent problem keeps bubbling up: gay rights.

I’m not going to throw statistics at you, not going to talk at you about STDs. Because, really, I know you prefer to shy-away from informed discussion. When it comes down to it, all of the empirical evidence ever amassed can’t get the most vivid, most disturbing piece of evidence out of your minds: me, in bed, with a man.

And this is where it all gets tricky, where you try and contort your religiosity into saving grace; it’s all for the children, after all–well, except for those most challenged, those most in need of care. You’ll leave them to the gays and lesbians, the transgender community whose politics you can’t ever understand and wouldn’t want to even if you could. You’ll let them all move into the ramshackle neighborhoods, pretty them up, raise those property values, and pay their taxes. But then, when they tap you on the shoulder–you, their neighbor–and ask, “Hey, how about equality?” those voyeuristic bedroom images of yours rush in, pervade your every thought, pollute the air you breathe, and make you turn away. But you rationalize your ideology, undergird it with The Word or your version of morality, and map it on to every living, breathing thing in your path. You’ll appropriate anyone’s personal life if it bolsters your journey to the legislature, up those steps, right to your seat. Because you feel as though my personal life is your life if it can benefit you in some way, get you a cushier seat, make you feel dignified, like you’re one with the people.

Really, though, if you’re so disgusted by where I put it, then get your nose out of there. Go on with your own life and engage the issues that affect us all. Don’t fall victim to the bully’s dilemma: Because I’m insecure with myself, I can’t face the music, can’t see that I’m not in control, I’m not the voice of reason, then let me pick on someone else, subject them to the rack, deny them certain inalienable rights. And sit back and pat myself on the back, sleep better at night knowing that I have a leg up on someone else.

But the truth is this: You’re no different than every other bully or fear-monger spewing your nonsense from on high. We’ve made it this far, not on your “charity,” not because you allowed us to, but because we’re tough–all of us: the lesbians, the transsexuals and transgendered, the drag queens and kings, the bisexuals, the queens, the bears, the leather daddies, the twinks. The queers; the “others” you can’t quite understand. Whether you like it or not, we’re here to stay.

You might not think you’ve lost control, but you have. At some point you’re hate-inspired speech, your rhetoric, your inequality bills will be eclipsed and will make history; but it won’t be the history you’d prefer it to be. It’ll be a quintessential example a future, more informed legislator will one day hold aloft, read a section, and wait for the boos, the hisses, the shaking of heads, the intakes of breath. Because it’s hate-speech, and it’ll go on record as such. Maybe not today, but it will be known for that, and that only. Because the one thing that’s constant in these tumultuous times is change.

And it’s coming, sequins and all.