A month or so back I was speaking to a mother who was struggling with the recent revelation that her grown son was gay. She was going through a series of steps that many caring parents go through under similar circumstances. Her concerns were all over the board, from “how can this be?” to “will he be safe?” These are questions that concerned parents ask themselves all the time. As I find myself doing from time to time, I listened and explained that her feelings were not unusual and they were to be expected. The most important thing, I said, was that she continues to be supportive of him. It seems so simple in writing doesn’t it? Well, writing is in black and white and unfortunately, (or is it fortunately?); the real world is in vivid colors and is much more complex.
Following my comment that she needed to be supportive, she said something that has resonated with me since. She said, “I love him and will always support him but I don’t think I can be an activist like you.” This was something I hadn’t heard before and I was a bit taken aback. An activist? Me? Not sure exactly how to respond, I said the first thing that came to my mind. “I’m not an activist, I’m just a dad.” It was almost as if activist had some sort of negative connotation that I needed to hide from in some way. I’ve wrestled with this for awhile now and I realize why this is the case. The term has been slandered by overuse. If someone disagrees with a judicial decision, it’s those “activist judges” that are blamed. If someone wants to stop drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, they’re environmental activists. If someone wants the drilling to continue, they’re pro-oil activists.
The fact is, when you look up the definition of the word, you find, “an especially active, vigorous advocate of a cause, especially a political cause.” I need to say right now that as I’ve said and written numerous times, I have found the cause that I’ve chosen to advocate for the remainder of my life. Do I advocate vigorously? Frankly, I like to think I don’t do things halfway. I write about issues, I speak before groups; I’m involved in an organization that includes advocacy in their mission statement. Does that qualify as “especially active”? If it does, then I suppose it would be fruitless for me to deny the title of activist. But knowing what it really means, why would I want to deny a title like that? Perhaps it describes what I hope to be. Every great movement, every special improvement throughout history has had its share of activists that helped push it to the forefront.
We only remember the leaders of the movements with monuments, but behind every Susan B. Anthony or Martin Luther King, there were thousands of “activists” that were especially active in advocating change. No leaders accomplish positive change by themselves. They can only encourage activism of others in order to start the snowball on its journey down the hill. Fortunately the GLBT community has a number of leaders in various organizations all working toward the ultimate goal of equality. Their work and encouragement has brought some good results the past few years. There is still a whole lot more to be done though before any stones get carved or coins get minted.
Political tide, just like the tide in the ocean, goes in and out, to and fro, many times. The old saying about the pendulum swinging too far one way or the other is based on fact. Everyone pushing for a cause always wants to push as far as they can because they prepare for the inevitable push back. Politicians have to play that game. So do activists. Just like most worthwhile things in life, advances of consequence are a series of two steps forward, one step back, until we can arrive at the ultimate destination. I say this because the strides made in the last few years are not necessarily permanent. Think about California. It hasn’t been long, 2008 in fact, that same sex marriage was legal in the state that brought us Harvey Milk. That only lasted a few months before Proposition 8. Just like the Lord giveth and taketh away, so can the legislature.
So the GLBT community needs to keep the peddle to the metal. There can never be a time of complacency. Winning individual battles are great, but if the war for equality is to be won, the fight needs to continue. It takes more than good momentum to win the prize. It needs a well thought out strategy and strong leadership. Come to think of it, I guess it needs some activists as well.
January 27, 2012