Austen Crowder

3 Things You Can Do After the Election to Move Us Forward

Filed By Austen Crowder | November 03, 2010 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: election campaigns, local, mentor, transgender, visibility, volunteers

I'm going to keep my election postmortem short.

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.

We lost. But we still have work to do.

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Great advice and a wonderful story. Things are getting better.

Regarding yesterday's election results I think it's helpful to remember that only one one-in-three adults in America participated. Two-thirds understand how insignificant politics really is.

Politics is not the best scorecard for our equality.

So, go volunteer, mentor and educate - THAT will make a difference. A real, sustainable difference.

I would personally add one more to the list. Call up the lame ducks in Washington and ask if they have any gonads. If they do, perhaps they should throw ENDA out from committee for a vote. The worst that could happen is it gets voted down and what difference does that make? They could even justify it as they are doing it to show they are serious about trying to create jobs. It would have to go through the entire process again if it is to be considered after the new Congress is seated anyway. The Democrats might even get some mileage out of it and perhaps get some support back from the LGBT Community in 2012 regardles as long as they tried to get their troops to support it anyway.

Thank You Austen,

After a hellish couple of months and an even worse few, sleep deprived days of GOTV, the last thing I wanted to do early this morning was go talk to a Human Sexuality class at a local university. I muttered all the way there, spilled coffee on my skirt, couldn't find a parking spot, discovered RM 1310 no-longer existed as rm 1310, kicked myself for not putting the professor's cell in my blackberry and considered just-not-showing-up.

All that angst had dissolved within about 10 minutes of (finally) finding the lecture hall. The prof had prepped the class well, the students weren't to a person texting or sitting all the way in the back and there was only one one big, thick-necked guy who scowled at me with his arms crossed.

90 minutes of (mostly) having a conversation rather than talking at them and I felt better and was glad I went. The best part is afterward when usually, someone asks if they can give my contact info "to a friend". Sometimes they call, sometimes not, but I know how lonely I was. The very least I can do is make myself available.

You remind me- My sole purpose needn't be manifest by bugging people to vote, organizing voluteers, haggling with the union printer, or being publicly outraged at press conferences.

Maybe, I'll start going to TransCend meetings again.

Best comment I've seen all week. :D

Thank you for the wonderful tips and story Austen. We can all do more and help foster change.

These suggestions are all spot-on. Wouldn't it be great for everyone if more of us came out and changed the minds of some conservatives? That would probably make Harvey Milk smile.

I don't think it's even about Conservative/Democrat, or for that matter politics at all. It's about tending to our local communities. Politics aren't the end of the world; they are simply another facet of our lives. _That's_ the distinction we need to make: for our own sanity, for the sanity of those around us, and for the sanity of those coming up behind us.

We forget that distinction at our own peril.

We have to remind ourselves that many Americans don't follow politics at all. 40-some percent don't even know who the VP is. We have to get out of the political sphere in order to make a real impact.

Only 30% of American adults voted in the mid-terms. the other 70% decided it wasn't important or it wasn't effective. Sometimes, the majority is correct.