Since my position ended at the end of 2012, I’ve been re imagining what kind of “job” I want next. I asked my digital community (on FB and Twitter): I was a Social Worker for 13 years and taught in Higher Ed for a decade–what should I do next? Over 200 people responded–some I’ve known less than 6 months and others since childhood. Their responses were overwhelmingly similar. In order of least popular to most…here are the professions that my friend and family elucidated:
5. Counselor for marginalized groups
4. Motivational Speaker
3. Event Planning/Fundraising
I am actively exploring these avenues and in that vein, received training last night to be an advocate at the State level for equality issues. We are taking common scenarios and discussing plans of action and strategy. The most thought-provoking statement of the night was from the seminar’s host. He said that in his opinion, much of the national LGBT media & social media presence did little to help local efforts and in fact often made things worse.
Typically, I am in the camp of more is always better (so American in that respect) so I asked him why he felt this way. He responded by saying that many websites in the community only seemed to be interested in keeping people riled up and not really directing that anger toward constructive action. He went further by saying that for those of us in the South–where the fight for basic equality is behind other areas of the country–suffer more from this perpetual outrage because it only fuels the thinking that things are hopeless.
This hit me between the ribs. I think a lot about how to facilitate change and I had not thought deeply about the impact of a constant stream of bad news. Of course, there are abysmal legislative and local efforts to keep marginalized communities powerless, but other than sensationalize how horrific they are–what can national allies do to truly support our efforts?
Part of it is just the media climate–where incrementalism just isn’t very clickable. But, I challenge activists to keep in mind that every community needs different approaches and local people often know more about how to pursue change in their areas. Just pointing a finger at an area and using its challenges to feel superior about your area or your efforts is self-serving and defeating.
Marriage equality legislation & passage will take years here. Until 2009, there were no laws (that is right–ZERO) on the books in Tennessee that even included sexual orientation and gender identity. If we follow the lead of many national organizations, we are likely to focus energies in the wrong direction. And when our misidentified efforts go down in flames, it simply makes it all that much harder to activate people toward more fruitful endeavors. It also reinforces incredibly unhelpful stereotypes both within and outside of our communities. Why even waste time in places like Tennessee? Who would sign up for such a Sisyphean task?
If you want to help states like Tennessee to be safer and more supportive places for marginalized communities…don’t just focus on our crazy State Legislature. Don’t get me wrong–it is great when Colbert and others shine a light on lunatics like Campfield. But please know 2 things; we are here trying to make it safer for people in real time. We need your voices, your money, your time–but more than that, we need your respect. Ask us what we need. We have a long list.