August 30th, 2020


How I became a gay rights activist

pink_halen's birthday question for me: To what do you owe your tolerance and championing of the LGBT community?

Actual graffiti I spotted on a bike path last week in Wichita, KS. Yes. August 2020. Then again it might say “no goys”, the writing is pretty bad.

I have to admit this question stumped me a little bit! I tried going back and looking at 2004-2005 entries, when I really got sucked into The Fight. 2005 was the year Kansas tried outlawing gay marriage and all same-sex unions forever by amending our constitution. I was 25 years old, working overtime, struggling through grad school, and working this campaign. I was on the board of what would eventually become Equality Kansas. I started out as their website designer, by the end I was making phone calls and knocking on doors every night to tell people about the issues in the amendment.

We lost. But ten years later, we won. And I was forever an "activist", one of those people who's been to protests and worked campaigns, even though I'm no longer as involved.

My livejournal from those days has a lot about my feelings THEN, and my feelings for the future, but no nicely spelled out "how did I get here?" kind of entry, which is really too bad but that's the risk we take blogging our lives. It's hard to find the balance between writing about your whole life, and writing about your life this second. It's better than other social platforms where everybody's posting their lunch, but finding that balance is totally up to you.

With that said here are some factors that might have lead me to get involved:

1) I didn't know many gay people, but the ones I knew were wonderful. They were my sister's friends in theater in high school, there was the guy on the 2nd floor of college with a zillion friends, shrugging off the fact that nobody wanted to be his roommate. I loved hanging out with them.

2) I was a libertarian. I loved that pure philosophy. I was raised to believe in freedom and hate big government. I'd been railing against the power since I was 13. We had to change the world to be what we wanted. There was a time when women couldn't own property or attend universities, we were held back... I didn't want that happening to anybody else. What's worse, the republican party, defenders of this freedom, had been hijacked by social conservatives who didn't understand the original purpose of this great nation. Which brings me to my next point...

3) The Christians, defenders of love and tolerance, had been hijacked by social conservatives who didn't understand the words of Jesus Christ. I was extremely religious in my teens and 20s. I was convinced that God made the world and all the people in it, and that He tested each generation with outcast groups of people to see who we'd hate. Jesus' words were clear to me, I had no doubt that the Parable of the Good Samaritan was an order to me to treat everyone as a neighbor.

There's a story in John 8 of a woman caught in adultery. The Pharisees asked Jesus what to do. He drew in the sand with his finger as he considered them. Then said "let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone".

Someone random at my youth group once told me that Jesus was writing the sins of the Pharisees in words in the dust, that's what the writing was about, that's how they became so instantly scared. This strange psychic Jesus folklore isn't in the Bible, but it stuck with me as I read more and more stories of Christ sticking up for minorities. The Christian right wasn't just wrong, they were stealing my faith. Using the name of God for their own political power and blasphemy. The problem was somewhere else, they said, fingers pointing to the "sinners". Churches shrank as my generation rolled our eyes at it, and I was so offended.

Christians love to decode things, I am no exception. We love to read the Bible and use it to back up whatever our gut feeling is (gut feeling = must be from God). Plenty of people read the Bible and decided we should make homosexuality an evil illegal thing. I'm actually not sure why I went left on it... but I did.

4) And the final straw in the perfect storm... I felt isolated in Wichita. I'd lived there for several years without making any terribly close friends. As an introvert, I was great with that for a while, but it was starting to get old. So I went to meetup to see what groups were active. One of them was gay rights. I went to a meeting in a Unitarian church. We sat on chairs in a circle and introduced ourselves. I said that I was a political moderate, but in Wichita I felt way left and guessed I'd have to go to a group like this to find people I could identify with. I had cubicle mates at work telling me they hoped I'd see the light, truly find Jesus, and vote republican. Ha! I had found Jesus. Bullshit right-wing advice was what I needed to lose.

So that's how I became their website designer.

I was home in that group. I found love there, and made friends. I met strong experienced activists, energetic young people, I got invited to parties where people admired my margarita making skills, it was a perfect break from everything else going on in my life. I am still friends with them.

I've read more about identity based decision making... we make decisions based on thinking "I am this type of person, what would this type of person do?" I'm a straight woman, but the LGBTQ community was just counterculture enough, just welcoming enough, just nerdy enough, to make me want to be one of them.

So looking back I can't really kid myself that I was a Great Philosopher. It was the people who got me in and made me feel welcome. I looked at them and saw that I could call out injustice and change the world. I loved it.

I might have gone the other way. I also went to a local libertarian meeting, but it was pretty awful. Three hours, old guys talking around parliamentary procedures, no introductions, no one interesting. I walked out at three hours (they might have gone longer!) and never went back. Maybe that's why I later realized that most other libertarian fantasies were stupid. I am also not as devout a Christian as I once was. And I've given up trying to fix the republicans from the inside.

The only thing that stayed for good was my certainty that the LGBTQ community deserves all our love and support. We should look out for them in school so the bullying stops. Let them get married, adopt kids, visit each other in hospitals, show photos of their beautiful families on their desks at work. Just like us. The world obviously isn't all there yet. But we're working on it.