I want to say that these are MY opinions. If you disagree with me I support that (vigorous debate can lead to a more thorough understanding of an issue), but please no nastiness.
I first got involved in activism in 1992 with the Qld Aids Council. I came out in 1990 at the ripe age of 18. It was 1990 that homosexuality was finally decriminalised in my home state of Queensland, Australia. It was also the early 90's where HIV/AIDS educators and activists in Australia had achieved a well funded and organised social mobilisation and education network. It was also in the early 90's that I dealt personally with the issue of HIV/AIDS, losing friends and community acquaintances.
It was a very different time of need than now - not that HIV is not still an important community issue - it was a time where people's live were literally at risk, and getting governments and the gay community on the same page was a very difficult and emotional process.
Now we are dealing with a different need, that of social equality and legal status. Now we are looking at civil rights. This second wave of civil rights is not unlike the first issue of civil rights that was so eloquently represented by the grace and intellect of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. At the time the issues of inequity were so blatantly profound in America - sitting at the back of the bus, segregated EVERYTHING - that there was no question as to why people were mobilising.
Now - with many believing that we have 'normal' lives - some believe the need for activism is somewhat murky compared to the race issues of the previous civil rights battle. At the end of the day, this is a HUMAN issue. We are talking about real people, real lives, real challenges and, most importantly, real discrimination. GLBT's are still faced with targeted violence and harassment by a segment of the community that are being told by the current conservative Right that it's ok because they are "just faggots that are going to hell anyways". The recent murders, and the noted suicides of the last 3 years, only demonstrate that this is a profound civil rights issue and we must act.
It's HOW to act that is the question many ask. During my activism years, and through my own experiences, I found that there are generally four types of activism that can be utilised.
- Soft Activism
- Systemic Activism
- Victory Activism; and,
- Militant / Extreme Activism
This is the "softly, softly - don't make any waves" type of gentle activism. Whilst it may sound a bit fluffy, it comes from the belief that by living an 'everyday' life just like the straight neighbours, you influence social change in an inoffensive and real life manner by "passively demonstrating normality whilst not embracing militancy". Now whilst this can certainly influence at the local level (street, community, workplace etc), I don't see it as a highly effective mode of change at the societal and political level.
This is the "work and influence from within" type of activism. Basically, this involves people getting inside the political and social system and working WITH it to enact change. In a comedy special, Kathy Griffin talked about a visit to Washington and being someone's Plus 1 at a political event. She noted that Washington was basically being run by gay assistants, and that the more conservative the Rep, the more gay and snappy the assistant. Whilst this is a very funny joke, the reality is that there are many who are doing this and attempting to change the negative ethos by trying to serve as real life examples of the consequences of their bosses actions.
Systemic Activism is also represented by organisations such as local gay health centres; HRC; Pride organisations; and, GLBT political lobby groups. Personally, I believe this to be the most effective form of activism. It's organised, thoughtful, professional but loses none of the passion and drive to succeed that they have inherited from the activists of the 80's and 90's.
This is the "ends justifies the means" type of activism. It is also the type of activism that looks for victories no matter what the cost. The recent removal of the Same Sex Immigration amendment in the USA was considered, by some, to be this type of activism. It is considered that ANY victory is a positive step forward. These types of activists also argue that whilst some may be left behind (even temporarily), that they are achieving the "Greater Good" by moving the community forward one step.
Now, this one is an issue for me and here is why. Whilst this can certainly achieve a step by step progression of our needs and rights, to me it seems a little cold and clinical. Yes I understand the rationale behind it and even agree with it on some level, but *I* think that some activists who are working from this ethos are a little ruthless. Yes of course getting hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants - thus including by default LGBT immigrants - a path to legal status is a human rights issue, and one that should be worked for. However, it does mean that there are those who are left behind. In this particular instance, there were those who felt they were being told to "take a seat and wait your turn". Now this may not have been how the activists actually felt, but it was poorly communicated. THIS type of activism requires serious and considered communication at the community level.
Act Up. Get Equal. This is the type of extreme activism that basically I can not stand one little bit. As a social progressive, I find the "in your face no matter how hard or inappropriate" stance of these people stomach churning. Point in fact, the recent case of the Get Equal heckler at a 'private' speaking event of First Lady of the United States of America, Mrs Michelle Obama. Now, this fucktard - yup I am going there - decided that it would be a good idea (as directed by Get Equal) to heckle the First Lady. Now, FLOTUS is the WIFE of POTUS, and whilst I am aware that these ladies can affect the stance of their husbands, they have no constitutional standing whatsoever. If you want to affect some change, challenge the President, not his wife. Personally I believe Mrs Obama handled it beautifully.
Get Equal were fucktards for even CONSIDERING this as some meaningful action. All it did was give the conservative Right ammunition. "There goes those crazy Lesbians again". Not exactly the picture of our community that I think could best progress our status. Extreme Activism will not work in this instance. All it does is empower White Christian Conservatives to crow how " bizarre and abnormal" those gay people are.
So............. why did I do this post?
Recently a fellow blogger who I admire and I differed greatly on the issue of activism. By his response I could tell he felt negatively challenged by me and my stance. The problem was, we didn't have a MEANINGFUL dialogue. We were both coming from places of emotion, and because of that, we couldn't (or maybe wouldn't - I see stubborn in both our personality profiles :) ) find a middle ground. He had his stance, and I had mine. And to be honest, I think how we view each other has changed somewhat and I think that's a shame.
This is the fundamental issue in the LGBT (Oh how I long for the days of the umbrella term Gay Community - don't email me on that one, I get it) community. We actually do not currently have a coordinated action, unlike the days of the initial HIV wave. I feel that we have a segmented community with segmented interests (hence the take a seat and wait your turn feeling), and that this segmentation actually hurts us and slows our fight for our civil rights. One blogger I knew said we should "lock and load", another said "for fucks sake get angry!". This was certainly the feeling during my time in activism and I wonder if we haven't lost some of our drive given some of the successes we have achieved.
We still have a ways to go and I look forward to the day when the issue of equity is a non-issue not just in my ancestral home of the US, but all nations including my first home of Australia. Even here in the "Lucky Country" we don't have the same legal status of our neighbours. Our lack of legality across the board reinforces the reality that the current Australian Government views us as "different".
May you all be blessed with hope, happiness and good health.