I was having a chat with a friend at the Creating Change Conference where we were catching up, talking about our current projects, and chatting about the community in general. We got into the topic of what we both agreed was a gaping whole in most people's personal activism and community involvement: engaging family, friends and acquaintances in the issues that matter to us.
It's a subject I've written about before, giving it the title "The Everyday Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Basically it boils down to many times the people in our lives don't ask about the important political, social, and equality issues that deeply affect our everyday lives as LGBT people and, too often, we don't tell them.
We may come out, get involved, call our legislators, take to the streets in protest, or push our issues online, but when it comes to the personal connections we can make, we are oddly silent. It often seems easier to sit back, live your life, and not get involved or have the sometimes uncomfortable conversation where you ask the people directly in your life to support you as an LGBT person.
Like they say in community organizing and campaigning, you have to have an "ask"- some direct action and contact to make the people around you begin to understand our lives.
It sounds simple and obvious.
Yet take a minute to look at the people in your life and think if you have ever asked them to not only love and accept you, but also take action for you and vote or stand in real solidarity with the LGBT community.
It's not as easy as it sounds. Many people struggle with coming out and deal with conservative families or communities. They just want to not talk about it or not "force it down" people's throats. But to really get the strength we need to make change and work towards equality and justice, we need to have those conversations. We need to actively engage and educate the people who's lives we touch.
We work hard with our families and love ones when we come out, sometimes in a process that can take months or even years. We try and let them know we are the same person as always, that we are strong and can take care of whatever comes our way. We tell them not to worry about us and work to convince them that nothing has "changed." In fact, we try so hard to not worry them or to be accepted by them that we leave out the hardships we face. We sanitize our life to gain acceptance and they never even realize it.
They need to hear, from our lips, how hard life can be for LGBT people and how they can help. We need to let them know it's okay to ask us how they can help. We need to accept their love and support. We need to ask for it. We have to stop being "strong" for those who might be there for us if we would just ask.
Poll after poll shows that people's general views on LGBT issues get more progressive when they know someone in their life that is part of our community. But this softening can too many times not translate into the votes or political power we need as a minority community. We may know our issues and how to vote, but our loved ones aren't as connected because we shield them from the hardships.
It's our job to be that connection.
Have some anti-LGBT legislation coming down in your state? Have the conversation and the direct ask with your family and friends. Canvass your life like you would canvass a district or neighborhood. It's an integral part of our activism that can make the difference between victory or defeat.
It's something that I've had to do in my own life. For example, my mother is a very conservative, southern woman. She's come to accept who I am and love my husband. But when it came to larger LGBT issues, she was clueless. I had to sit her down and explain why Florida's Amendment 2 (our constitutional ban on marriage equality and relationship recognition) was such a horrible thing- how it directly impacted my life and my family. It wasn't an easy talk and it pushed some uncomfortable buttons, but it opened up a communication between us. That line of communication has continued to this day, where she'll even call me or send me emails about LGBT issues in the news to see how it affects my life. It's personalized an issue for her that she didn't feel a connection to before.
You can have a huge impact on LGBT rights just by being honest with those around you. It's hard. It's often uncomfortable. It can be messy. But it is necessary.
By repealing our self-imposed "don't ask, don't tell" policy in our everyday lives, we can truly create lasting change.