The “Best” Type of Activism

I often hear arguments about what sort of activism is the most effective, legal, social, or personal. This seems to be a problem for many college GSA’s, but is a huge issue in the older LGBT community. Some people argue that making legal change is the most impactful. Other groups want to focus on helping LGBT individuals one on one to come to terms with their sexuality, gender identity, or gender expression, whether through counseling or going out and partying. Still other groups focus on impacting their local community, impacting society in general. Of course, the terminology that is used differs from group to group, but I really feel like they tend to focus on one field the most: the single person, the society/community, or the legislation/institutional level.

However, a good friend, Justin Gilmore taught me something that immediately became imbedded in my mind and my philosophy. While it may seem like three separate ways of doing activism, they are all one. I warn you, the following example is an over simplification to show how my theory about queer activism works. Also, Justin, if you are reading this, I apologize if my paraphrasing is off.

For instance, if I focus my activism specifically on the individual, on counseling, empowering, and educating each person, that person will, hopefully, feel more comfortable expressing themselves, being open and proud of their sexuality, rather than being closeted and shy. If every member of my group is out and proud, there will be an impact on my immediate community. They will notice dozens of people being out, hosting events on our campus, waving their rainbow flags, and/or holding their rainbow umbrellas. The people who are out will ¬†educate people around them about what it means to be LGBT, why it is not something to be afraid of, and how other members of society can become allies (You cant think gay people are big scary monsters when you meet face to face with a normal, well adjusted LGBT person). If these people being out and proud make an impact on our community, legislators against us will not be able to say “There are no gay people in my constituency” (which every single politician against gay rights, from my senator here in PA to the president of Iran) and legislators who wish to support us will be able to push for bills of tolerance and acceptance, since more people in their constituency are supportive of gay rights.

This also works in reverse. If my focus is on lobbying, getting legislation passed, working at the institutional level, and for instance I get a non-discrimination bill passed in my county (which is, essentially, a bill saying I cannot be fired/evicted/denied care/etc for being LGBT, something which is extremely rare in PA). Now many LGBT individuals do not have to be afraid of losing their jobs for being out. This allows people who want to be out and proud to be so without fearing losing their jobs, homes, etc. These individuals will make an impact on their immediate communities (Say, for instance if the person in the cubicle/desk next to you who wears a suit and tie every day comes in a dress tomorrow). These individuals were empowered by the legislation we passed. These individuals then make an impact on their society. If the society becomes slowly more accepting of LGBT individuals, perhaps a gay marriage bill can be passed. This will, again, empower individuals.

So this is my view on queer activism. I can understand that some groups find one way or another the most effective way of making change, but I think we can all agree all three forms of activism are important in their own way.

As for how I approach activism, I find I personally work best on the social level. Standing up in front of a lecture hall or on a stage at a rally in front of some big crowd is where I have made some of my strongest impacts. This is just due to the fact I am a good public speaker. However, the work done for instance by EqualityPA is amazing. I would love to do more lobbying and pushing for bills, but right now I know I can make the most impact at the front of an audience.

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