Look, it sucks that the Dems lost. It was expected, and in many ways necessary to put the Dems in check. But it's not all bad in the end; with conservatives slowly moving toward equality we might even stand a chance at holding our ground. Hell, given the recent spat of court cases we may even gain more territory in the next two years than we ever did through congress alone. Gotta look on the bright side of life, you know.
I know a lot of people are despondent about the last two years. This Republican victory may even serve as a capstone on many an advocacy career. ("Screw it! I give up if that's how the game's going to be played!") I know; I'm frustrated and teetering at that "I quit" point. Just because you're so frustrated with politics that you consider laying low, however, doesn't mean you can't do something really useful for the community. LGBT activism is about more than politics, alphabet-soup bills, and stories of discrimination.
Here's three things you can do right here and right now that will probably do more for LGBT people in general than the fight for equality can ever achieve on its own. We may be in political remission, and our civil equality may be stalled, but that doesn't stop the world from turning nor does it mean we should stop tending to our local queer communities.
Volunteer your time and your money to organizations working within your local community - they often get the short end of the stick. You can take your pick of organizations, as not everybody is political. There are youth centers that are always looking for content, HIV charities in need of help, community education centers in need of speakers. The world is not a nice place for queer people and these organizations help us navigate the law, access needed care, and network with friendly businesses and organizations. It's not sexy work by any stretch of the imagination, but giving your time to these places will have a direct effect on your local community.
Are they going to help the political quest for equality? In most places, no. Just because we are fighting for future political victories doesn't mean we can ignore the needs of our community in the here and now.
Inequality isn't always born of hatred. In fact, most times it's a combination of our problems being invisible and misunderstood. The media doesn't present our issues and problems - which is unfortunate - but that means we must shoulder the responsibility of community education and visibility. Fortunately, this doesn't have to be political; in fact this process is most successful when it's not attached to politics.
The trans community, often left at the bottom of the barrel as far as political maneuvering is concerned, has used this tactic to great success. Clarion Health, for example, never considered the disparities their present registration process offered. After some talks with INTRAA they are revising their forms and policies to make healthcare for transgender people easier. Through the training and education process the prevailing attitude was "I never knew these problems existed." Not "I hate trans people." Not "It's against my religion." Simple misunderstanding.
As Milk once said, "If they know us, they don't vote against us."
Mentor, mentor, mentor, mentor. Dear Sweet Baby Jesus I can't say this one enough.
Our educational system is among the most conservative and LGBT-erasing institutions in this country, leaving our youth scared and alone. They see stereotyped versions of gay people on TV (link), dead, de-gendered trans people in the media, and are purposefully cut off from knowing what the real, living LGBT community is like. For the lucky few who find their way to inclusive youth centers, clubs, and organizations, we have to come out in spades.
The education culture isn't going to change anytime soon. However, if we can change the perspectives of even a few kids by helping them shed the shame of being LGBT - and then backing them up when school administrations try and force them back into place - we make the world a better place for youth. That we are cut out of the education system by tradition is a crying shame; however, that means we have to work even harder to make change.
A Personal Story
A story before I leave. I've been spending a lot of time as a youth mentor lately - Indianapolis's visible trans community is mostly male, and as such I wanted to make myself available to kids who might have questions about transitioning as I did. (In fact, I started mentoring precisely because I wished I had met somebody who knew the transition path and would have helped me find the confidence to come out sooner, but I digress.) I met this girl on a Friday; it took her a while to figure out that I was trans, but once she did she had a thousand questions for me: how to transition, what steps she could take, what the process was like, everything.
You see, this young trans girl never met a trans woman before. She turned 18 last week.
I realized at that moment that I didn't even know what trans people were before I was 18, didn't meet my first trans person until I was 20, and was only able to find the resources to transition because a trans friend of mine gave me the number of a friendly therapist at age 23. Along the way I had no role models, no idea of what transition would be like, and no framework to visualize myself actually going through the process - in effect, going through the process blind. But now, less than 10 years later, a girl meets a trans woman, gets the help she needs, and finds the courage and support to work her way through transition.
That moment was worth more than anything I've said, done, or affected here on Bilerico; worth more than any political campaign, any institutional victory, any successful rally. We could have lost both houses, the senate, and ended up with an impeached executive and I'd have been just fine with it. Life goes on.
Screw the Dems and Repubs and talk of failed alphabet-soup bills. It's not all bad. Things really are getting better, and they will continue to get better so long as people step up in their local communities and make things happen. We may have a crappy political future, but LGBT people still have to wake up to their lives on the day the new conservative majority gets sworn in.