POV: Shifting the Paradigm, Being the Architects of Change

Since DOMA landed on the steps of the Supreme Court, support for LGBTQ equality seems to be busting out all over.

Supporters are everywhere – LGBTQ, straight, young, old, black, white, brown, religious, democratic and republican. Folks we all knew were gay and some we never suspected were gay have come out. Even some who had professed being cured of their gayness have come out again.

The wedding registries are filling up and the wedding bells are ringing for me and my gal (or him and his pal).

But before we proclaim that we are living not only in a post racial but also a post homophobic society think again. There’s a whole lot of work to be done within and without before we reach one beloved community.

At an LGBT dinner recently, the speaker called on our straight allies to be more vocal, more engaged in our fight for equality. He said “We can’t do it without you” comparing their involvement/participation to that of white’s in the civil rights movement. Although I agree completely, the primary responsibility for changing hearts and minds still lies with the LGBTQ community and we have some internal and external work to be done.

Is it just me, or does anyone else think we spend too much time adding letters to define our community and not enough building community? I understand we add more letters to the acronym to be more inclusive. That’s a good thing.

We are the melting pot. LGBTQIA and all the other different elements “melting together” into a common culture but we’re also the multicultural salad bowl where our different cultures mix, but remain distinct.

We celebrate our different cultures as a true expression of our rainbow. But we need to be more than a pretty picture. On issues affecting our community from employment to immigration, we must raise a unified voice on more issues than marriage.

Even as we showed our solidarity for marriage equality, LGBTQ youth continue to face lives of despair. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens are more likely to attempt suicide, use alcohol, cocaine, and other drugs. They are also more likely to be victims of physical violence, verbal harassment, rejection, isolation, depression and HIV/AIDS. Too many are going to the altar, but they’re not getting married, they’re getting buried.

As we showed our solidarity for marriage equality, members of our LGBTQ community worried not only about finding jobs but being fired from their jobs for being gay. Despite the highest levels of public support for protecting LGBTQ workers (9 in 10 Americans mistakenly believe workplace discrimination is already illegal) fewer than half of state governments protect LGBTQ workers from discrimination and there is still no federal law to protect LGBTQ workers from employment discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

As we showed our solidarity for marriage equality, during the Supreme Court deliberations, reports of exclusion of uniquely trans-specific banners began to surface, ironically during the same week we celebrated Transgender Visibility. Did HRC really ask that the Trans banner be removed for a photo-op before SCOTUS? Holy equality Bat Man – talk about shades of the ENDA misstep!

How can we ask our allies to stand up for us when we aren’t prepared to stand up for one another? Time to declare our commitment to full equality of all members of the LGBTQ community – Nobody gets left behind.

Unfortunately, despite the flurry of high profile outings in the news, many in our community choose to live private lives. Consequently, for many in the general public, if you’re not Ellen & Portia the perception of the LGBT community is still defined by sitcoms, stereotypes and homophobic hate-speech.

Many define an ally as a person who is a member of the dominant or majority group [straight] who works to end oppression by supporting and advocating for the oppressed population [LGBT persons]. If we continue to think of allies using this definition we will continue to perpetuate a “them and us” dynamic and isn’t it time to break the dominant/oppressed model.

It’s time to shift the paradigm, to redefine the relationship between the LGBTQ community and our allies.  Our challenge is to do more than engage our allies but to transform them to members of our community where it’s no longer them and us, the majority group advocating for the oppressed population but one community “with liberty and justice for all.”

So how do we make this change? How do we change hearts and minds? How do we change allies into our brothers and sisters? How do we become that Beloved Community envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King?

Only we can tell our stories and we need to be telling them to friends, families, co-workers, neighbors and colleagues.

Let’s start by being out not just at the clubs or in the safe places but over the fence in your backyard talking to your neighbors, at community meetings, in church, at work. Leverage your inter-sectionality – we are more than gay – bring your entire authentic self in to every situation. Don’t let society pigeon hole you into only LGBT debates. Yes we want marriage equality, but we want good schools, paved streets, jobs, good government, safe communities and the best for our families.

But most importantly tell your story, not as a victim, but as an equal. Start where you are most comfortable. Go for the low hanging fruit – those friends and family who say they love and support you – and ask them join you in this struggle, shoulder-to-shoulder as warriors for equality. Let it be like ripples in a pond, spreading out across families, neighborhoods, communities, the nation and the world.

The times they are a changing – Let’s be the architects of this change. Our time is now!

Michelle E. Brown is a Public Speaker, Activist and Author. You can follow her ativities and contact her at www.mychangeiam.com and www.twitter.com/mychangeiam

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