So what’s the point at being an activist?

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by David Shelton
Contributor

It’s a question that we all ask ourselves at some point, sometimes frequently. Why even bother as an activist? Why even bother with trying to change the rampant homophobia, bigotry, ignorance and outright hatred toward us? This summer has brought on even more doubt and fear among us because of the impending “defense of marriage” amendment that has been sent to voters by the Tennessee house, and wide reports of arsons of various gay clubs and affirming churches.

It’s a time when it’s OK for an anti-gay Pennsylvania senator who praises the judicial system of Nazi Germany as a high example of excellence to have an openly gay chief of staff (who praises his boss on how principled he is). It’s a time when it’s OK for the country’s largest outdoor advertising company to reject a critical pro-gay campaign that says, “We are your neighbors.”

Where was the outrage when gay Alabama teenager Scotty Joe Weaver was brutally murdered by three of his closest friends because he was gay? Where was the outrage when the Tennessee legislature tried to pass several bills that would ban gay adoption and other anti-gay bills? That one died on a technicality. What will happen when it comes up again?

We have taught ourselves to say, “don’t bother.” We have convinced ourselves that being jaded is the way to be as gay and lesbian Americans. Just go to the clubs, or stay home with our partners, and hope no one figures us out. When someone tells an off-color joke at work, we just laugh politely and say nothing.

After all, what’s the point?

We have reached a time when the greatest enemy to GLBT rights is the GLBT community. We are either too complacent or too focused on our own lives to realize what an exciting and dangerous time this is. We have reached a time when the “religious right” has invested an incredible amount of time and resources in convincing the world of the horrors of the GLBT community.

The positive side to that onslaught of hate and homophobia is that they know people are slowly beginning to change. As more of us come out, our friends and families realize that we are people–we are human beings, with dreams and hopes of happiness. Yet we continue to squander the opportunity to talk about how important equality really is, and that we are still second-class citizens (if that).

Real change will only happen when we realize that there IS a point to speaking out. I’m not talking about going on national TV and declaring, “I am a gay American,” when backed against the wall. We must change hearts one-on-one. We must talk about what’s important to us. As we build a grassroots network of friends, family and coworkers that will support us, we’ll begin to finally see the hate fade away.

We can change minds by building networks. Have barbecues. Make friends and talk about what matters. The kinds of networks that make a difference are people who have committed themselves to coming together on a regular basis. Many in our community have been turned off by religion, so that’s not an option. What else matters to us? OK, there are clubs and bars. What else? What else indeed.

The challenge before us is real, my friends. We have a classic opportunity before us to bring about positive change, but to do that, we must unite. We must stand as the GLBT community, hand-in-hand, pretty and ugly, twink and bear, bull dyke and lipstick lesbian, butch or fem, vanilla or kinky, and every other clique we can imagine, and build networks based on equality. Whether we’re rich or poor, we all have our rights threatened.

Maybe it’s time we stopped checking out that hot ass and get off our own ass and do something. We have said that nothing will ever change so why bother. Well, nothing will ever change so long as we believe that. And that, my friends, is the point.

Maybe it’s time to form a brand new political party that embraces the entire GLBT community and our allies. Maybe it’s time for us to realize that writing checks is no substitute for speaking out to our friends and relatives. One thing is for sure: We can’t rely on “someone else” to speak out about what’s fair and equal. That’s our job.