Please note before you flame the comments that I said "in" not "of" because I know there are many LGBT activists that are extremely passionate, engaged and upbeat. That said, there are also a lot of whiners running around and the extent of their political engagement is demonizing Obama for not instantaneously bestowing their rights upon them the second he took office before they run off to the club or the gym wearing purple because a Facebook event told them that's involvement.
Allow me to offer you an example of this. While I was waiting in line to see Obama on Saturday, there was a gay freshman behind me who I talked with quite a lot. He came to the U of M from a small town and instantly got involved with handing out fliers about Don't Ask Don't Tell, talking with the ROTC groups, promoting the upcoming election, and more.
"Politics isn't even my passion," he said, "but we finally have politicians who are truly sympathetic to the LGBT community now, so now we have to push."
He's exactly right. We have to push. Rights don't just come to you. It's always been a hard-fought battle, and it's something this generation has never had to do.
On the flip side, a friend of his who just stopped by on his way to the rec center said the same thing I hear dozens of people say all the time.
"Well I voted for Obama so he'd repeal 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' and end discrimination, and he hasn't done anything, so I'm pissed. I'm not going to support him again, and I really don't want to wait in line to hear more empty words."
Then he walked off.
This kind of rhetoric and cynicism infuriates me for two reasons.
- It's completely unhelpful.
- It is categorically untrue.
So you voted, huh? That's it, is it? That's how real change happens, with a once-every-four-years action? Sorry, kiddo, but that ain't how the system works.
I usually begin conversations with these disenfranchised masses by suggesting that they write to their congressmen and women in the Senate and the House. I'd say about 85 percent of the time, the people I talk to don't even know who their representatives are let alone how to contact them, and that's when I start to get angry. I have written to Keith Ellison and Al Franken a dozen times, urging them to support legislation that would increase gay rights and protect gay citizens. They write back, and often point me to local organizations that are working to spearhead the causes. I get involved further with their help. They work to make sure my voice is represented, and my priorities are reflected.
A vote doesn't tell a politician which part of their platform is most important to you or what your priorities are. Engagement does. If you want a lot of attention and a lot of significant change, you have to make a lot of noise. The suffragettes and blacks of the civil rights era did not just sit down and wait for their politicians to get around to the topic and make a decision. Votes for women -- the most basic of political rights -- were first proposed in 1848, but weren't adopted until 1920, when thousands of pissed off broads marched upon Washington D.C. and nearly caused a riot. In the civil rights movement, over a quarter of a million people flooded the nation's capitol and demanded an end to segregation. The last major LGBT march was in 2009, when about 10,000 showed up (hardly a major gathering by today's standards, when you consider Glenn Beck's rally can turn out over 80K and comedians can convince an expected 100k to show up just for the sake of restoring sanity) -- a march Obama openly endorsed as a sitting president.
That is just one of the reasons I want to smack those who want to blame Obama for failing to advance gay rights and equality upside the head with an American History textbook. I would argue that the reason change hasn't been as drastic is because the LGBT community hasn't really done enough and wants to pin all the blame on Obama.
Sure, you could argue that Obama just made an appeal to the LGBT community for votes with empty words if he hadn't acted at all -- but he has. How about passing law that includes anti-gay violence and threats to hate crime laws across the country? How about asking all four heads of the military to review DADT? They did it, and all top heads are prepared to work to remove it. Congress and change move slowly, but the gears are turning faster than they have in decades. These little victories should be celebrated and used to gather positive momentum, instead of becoming fodder for the gimme-gimme generation's ever-growing list of gripes.
But no, the media circus revolving around the recent DADT court rulings is only fueling the angst right before a crucial election that could set gay rights initiatives back a peg or two. Nevermind the motivation behind it -- given that a court judgment is not stable political law and that such decisions must be ratified by Congress to be even remotely permanent. Why do you think women are constantly having to wonder if abortion will remain a legal procedure and why the rules are so shaky? No, it's much easier to say the president is anti-gay because he wants to ensure that those in the movement aren't accused of trying to subvert the system and to make sure the ban of DADT will stick. Man, what a jerk.
To be clear, I'm not saying that the LGBT community doesn't have a right to be frustrated or imply that they somehow don't deserve the rights because they haven't worked hard enough to put 500,000 feet on the roads of D.C., because they do deserve their rights and have legitimate reasons to be upset. Inequality is never OK and it's never easy to face on a day-to-day basis, but channeling that frustration into spite is not helping anyone. It alienates people and creates a no-win scenario for politicians and activists alike when even the little victories aren't worth anything because they're "not enough." It makes me irate when I see that I'm fighting more actively for their rights than some gays are, and yet they're the ones who are so willing to dismiss all light at the end of the tunnel while they lounge around and wait for change to be delivered to them. It's easy to complain and act like a victim with no hope, but instead of spreading anger and negativity, if they just transferred that frustration into passion to affect positive change, we might actually get somewhere. It breaks my heart when I watch them sulk, overgeneralize, and turn people away who are willing to help -- especially when they don't really try to help themselves.
I'm not going to pretend like I don't get frustrated with the process too. It is slow and you would think that we would have learned from our past struggles and wouldn't force the oppressed group to rise up in order to get what they are owed by the constitution. Unfortunately, you've got to work with the system that you have -- but above all, you have to work for it, not just complain about it.