‘Tis the season to make promises to yourself. Whether it’s losing weight, taking up scuba diving or calling your mother, the new year is a time to resolve to do new things and be a better person. We’ve got the personal covered, but what about the gay community as a whole?
2008 will be remembered as a big year for the gays—we won rights, then lost them and then caught the world’s attention by making our voices heard. At the same time, the world of gay media continues to shrink, LGBT folks continue to be beaten and killed both at home and abroad, gay leadership often seems missing in action and, if you’re a gay minority, you’re getting the short end of two already pretty-damn-short sticks. We can’t control Obama or Congress or the homophobes who will call us names, deny us our rights or, in far too many cases, still turn to physical violence. But the best way of controlling our destiny is to start with ourselves. Here are 10 new year’s resolutions we’d like to see the gay community keep:
Build an army.
You can blame gay organizations for not achieving goals faster than they have, or for only asking you to open your wallet, but let’s face facts: If you only have a limited pool of people actually willing to work for equal rights, your best bet is to make sure they’re well funded and to pass the heavy lifting over to professional experts. We lost marriage equality in California partly because we handed the reins of the campaign over to paid professionals. Sure, we should take advice from political experts, but you can’t buy equal rights. You have to work for it. Let’s see the gay community take a page from the Obama campaign and organize grassroots activists; let’s see meetings of 10 or 15 people at a time talking about what they can do on their block, street or town to make a difference. Multiply that across the globe and talk to one another, and there’s nothing we can not achieve.
Don’t fear visibility.
The most important thing the gay community can do to help itself out is to continue to be present and vocal. We should use every opportunity that we can to make the case that denying gays and lesbians the right to marry, the right to serve our country and the right to live without fear of retribution is an attack on civil rights. That means when a transexual woman is beaten and killed, her death can’t pass into the night forgotten; that means when a priest who compares gays and lesbians to pedophiles is invited to speak before the whole country, we speak up too; that means talking to your friends and family about the issues that are important to you. Harvey Milk was right: There is no downside to being visible.
Realize that equal rights is not a popularity contest.
More than a few well-meaning gays and lesbians seem to think that if only homophobes could see what nice people we are, they would step aside and allow us our rights. Join the Impact’s series of increasingly silent and passive protests are a step in the right direction (there’s only so many times you can march back and forth and still be effective), but the attitude that by being the best little boy or girl in the world will confer upon you a gold seal of approval is so last century. Stop asking for equal rights and start demanding them. This doesn’t mean simply yelling louder than the opposition, but it does mean making the case for equality forcefully, and remembering that there’s nothing wrong with you—it’s the homophobes who need to change.
Treat the gays just like straights.
We need to stop giving a special pass to gay and lesbian organizations, be they charities, media or businesses. The charge that you’re being “divisive” when criticizing the gay and lesbian community is foolish. We should hold ourselves to the same standards we hold the rest of the world. This isn’t just a nice principle, it has real benefits. If gay and lesbian groups aren’t scrutinized, questioned or criticized, they risk being loved to death. You’re not being a good friend if you let someone go on doing something that’s stupid, ineffective or dangerous simply because you don’t want to hurt their feelings.
Make allies everywhere.
Here’s another fact that has to be faced: Gays and lesbians will always be in the minority, no matter how much Baptist ministers would have you believe that we’re going to turn all the children gay. The good news is that more people are willing to stand up for equality—some because they have friends or family who are gay and some because they think it’s wrong to treat any group of people like second-class citizens. The biggest challenge now is reaching and engaging both communities of color and religious groups. It’s prejudiced to think that people in these groups can’t have their hearts turned, and the truth is, we haven’t tried all that hard to reach them.
Define the agenda.
As long as the gay community is unclear about its goals, homophobes will continue to define them for us. All they have going for them is fear and they’ll continue to tell people who don’t know any better that the goal of the gay community is to teach homosexuality to children, force churches to marry gays and lesbians and any number of other ridiculous lies. Yes, there’s a gay agenda, but there’s no reason it should be a secret. We need to find a clear way to articulate what it is we believe to be full, fair and equal treatment under the law, and then we need to tell everybody.
Get a winning attitude.
I remember standing on the street in L.A. with a few hundred other Prop. 8 protesters and talking to a slightly older guy, who had joined us as he saw us marching on the street. He told me and a few others that the thing we need to realize is that “in the scheme of things, this will only take a minute.” He’s right. The plain and simple truth is that we’ve come a long way in a short time and that a lot of the impatience we have now is because, at long last, there’s a finish line in sight. Even though we lose ballot initiative after ballot initiative, we should remember that these initiatives are a response to our success. The story of America, the thrust of our history, is toward more equality and freedom. Be angry, be outraged, but don’t lose sight that you’re on the winning team.
Hate the bigotry, love the bigot.
No matter how virulent, homophobia always comes down to ignorance. This means nobody should be written off, but it also means that no matter how good or decent or kind a person is in their other walks of life, their homophobia still deserves to be called out. I’m talking about Rev. Warren, obviously. The truth is, Warren’s done a lot of good for the world and I believe he’s a decent man, but when it comes to his views on gays and lesbians, and the extent to which he’s gone to deny gays and lesbians their rights, he is fundamentally wrong. We should do our best, even when they’re fighting against us (even more so when they’re fighting against us), to help people who are letting hate and fear control them.
Remember that it’s not all about you.
Just as the fight for LGBT rights doesn’t boil down to overturning a gay marriage ban in California, there’s more to equality and fairness than just the needs of gays and lesbians. You can practice your politics in whatever way you choose, but if you support full and equal protection for gays and lesbians, you owe it to yourself and your fellow citizens to looks at the many other gross inequalities around the globe and do something about them as well. It’s easy to be self-serving, but if you expect straight people to care about you, you should try caring about something that doesn’t directly effect you as well. And don’t just empathize, do something tangible.
You can have your cake *ahem* and eat it, too.
Finally, let’s resolve to be diverse. The argument over whether we should be “mainstream” or “radical” is tedious. We can be both. We can be Democrat and Republican. We can forcefully advocate change through civil disobedience while also working within the system for change. Of all the groups of people in the world, it seems that ours has the greatest capacity for being able to hold two ideas in our head at the same time. We’re a better, stronger and more interesting community when we are both the loud-mouthed flamboyant hairdresser and the buttoned-down country club preppy. We wouldn’t be fabulous if we all did it in the exact same way. It’s a big community and no one single person or group gets to own it. That’s why we all own it.