Waymon Hudson

Want to Create Change? Take a Look in the Mirror

Filed By Waymon Hudson | February 05, 2010 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Creating Change conference, Don't Ask Don't Tell, LGBT rights

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.

shh.jpgIt'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.


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"We sanitize our life to gain acceptance and they never even realize it."

I love this statement Waymon, it's so true.

I wish it were so easy as the author suggests. When I came out to my family that I was a transsexual female, I was immediately disowned. Years later they continue to refuse to see me, speak to me, or even acknowledge my existence. Picture people putting their fingers in their ears and running away in full-blown panic and you have an idea of my brothers, father, and cousins. I'm sorry I had to leave them behind in journey to become the person I was meant to be, but that's the hard reality. Sometimes being honest with those who are closest to us only results in revealing that they are unable or unwilling to overcome their prejudices to embrace those they formerly loved and respected. So I guess the moral of the story is that some of the people who are closest to you will be able to stretch, grow, and go beyond their old comfort zone; others won't. It's great when you see them grow, but don't be surprised when they don't. Revealing one's gender identity is truly an acid test.

Waymon,

I hope you're having that conversation about winning. Those of you on the front lines have a lot to offer. The sooner we figure out HOW and WHEN we can achieve full equality, the sooner we can jumpstart our movement and actually WIN.

I have been saying this for years, that this community as a group only talks to the choir and does not reach out to the outside world. Then when it does hit the newspapers its that freak show again and the Lbgtq say they have been educating people all along. Yes they have, the choir. If your in the glbtqa loop then you know all about the lives and hardships that go on.
I'm a transwoman and I have led an open life. I have lost some people over this, including a son, but this is my life now and I'm not responsible for his any longer. He is in his 30's. Sadden, yes but my life has to go on and it was his choice along with the others that jumped ship. I have made friends with others, outside of the glbtqa, and they all know about me and they do know if they have any questions, I will answer them.
We do need to start at the bottom rung of the ladder and let the chips fall. Give them the choice. You need to live your life for yourself. You don't need to shove anything down any ones throat to do this.

Good one Waymon. Here in CA right now there are people out to begin gathering signatures for RESTORE EQUALITY 2010. .... and I am embarrassed to say I am not one of them. Have hubby who understands my online activism now, but doesn't want me out in community. Will keep working on him.
PS. Posted, shared, and blasted..
@eirrek. So, it's not just family he means here, its others around you too. Give up on those who won't accept you for who you really are.

Waymon -
Great post - I wish I were there in Dallas, but I am in Orange County, CA - Irvine to be exact. Probably one of the most "sanitized" cities in California. I am a Jewish woman married to a Black woman. We have consistently asked our families and friends to step up in their "PDS" - public display of support - and we are both very much "out." I am a full-time activist for LGBT equal rights. BUT! Just before reading your post we were out walking our dog - right around our house - and I grabbed my wife's hand. We walked quietly hand in hand, right down our street. It was the first time in 7 years that we did this right on our own sanitized Irvine street. It was always easy to do this when we went out - but something about doing it right where we live was so much scarier. I can't believe that for two people who are supposedly so comfortable with who are, holding hands while walking our dog down our street felt like an act of protest. It was. And it felt really good. I can't wait to do it again. There are so many ways we "sanitize" our lives and I will commit here and now to uncovering and ""unsanitiziing" every one of them. Its time to get 110% real.

You are so right. Reminds me of Harvey Milk - "I am here to recruit you!" I know it can be extremely difficult and may not always be safe but the more open members and friends of the lgbt community can be, the more our mission can be advanced.

I'm the proud parent of a gay son, and I don't think there are many people who know me who don't know that. I know it's easier for me to accomplish this than for many. I just want to keep the momentum going.

Chitown Kev | February 6, 2010 3:56 PM

Waymon,

While everyone in my family knows that I'm gay, the stigma and homophobia with many family members has been enough to drive me away from them and out of their lives (my family lives in Michigan).

I have attempted to have these conversations with them over the phone and face to face and I have very rarely gotten a positive response. More often it's been the "I don't want to hear about it" but I love you because you're my (insert relation).

Occasionally it's been out and out homophobia.

And my family know that I worked with the No On 1 campaign.

Since I have had very little to do with the family over the years, yes, I do consider myself to be "closeted" in a very weird way. Yet...I don't know what else to do, I've done the whole "ask" thing. It's painful to be around the family and I will not revolve my life around what they think.

When I say "Family" or "loved ones", perhaps I should define it better. I mean not only our biological families, which too often completely disengage or disown LGBT people, but also our "chosen family." Those are the friends, colleagues, and acquaintances who fill our life and maybe aren't queer, but have a level of acceptance with us. Those are the people we need to give the "hard ask" to- the ones who know us, but don't realize the importance or difficulty of our struggles. These are the people we sanitize our lives to.

Obviously some people in our lives will never listen or take actin for us, but some will. And they might tell their loved ones. And so on...

It's a small but powerful thing that has huge ripple effects. It's connecting the personal with the political on a one on one basis.

Thanks for all the great comments, everyone!

Maybe next year you can discuss HOW and WHEN we can WIN.

What's another year, right?

I'm not sure what you're looking for, Andrew. Strategy and tools were a huge focus of the conference, but this post was about a specific, small, doable action that can create a long-term change in the atmosphere towards LGBT people.

That's simple. I'll repeat:

1. How?
2. When?

Will we achieve our full equality.

Way: Great Post can't help but think that you have been a part of my coming out "again" to myself. Acceptance of ourselves is foremost in this process of full equality. As we have discussed privately the preceding acceptance was and is a big "like huge" step for me in my life at my age. Harvey Milk said the words that made sense...Enis Del Mar "Brokeback Mountain" made me see that what would I want to say of my life in 20 years. Nearly 2 years into my new home and neighborhood. Working side by side with my soon to be "husband" in our front lawn turned formal rose garden with the neighbors coming by to just say hello makes me feel whole. Yes I left my own biological family behind more years ago that I care to divulge. The time is NOW and the place is right HERE to ourselves first end of story. Keep up the great work that you do here at BILERICO you make sense of nonsense where we all need a breath of fresh air.