What can we do to bring about full parity and LGTB rights to our nation? As feminists and gay and lesbian people, the question is asked among us and in our quiet chambers of thought each day. We expected greater support from the Obama administration and, so far, it’s been quite disappointing. And, despite the many legal and civil gains in recent years, we have been let down in countless ways in state after state as the armies of the night, the haters, the sexists and self-righteous religionists continue to mount ruthless and expensive wars against us.
Recently, in the midst of railing at the homophobia in our midst, in one of my quiet chamber moments, I remembered the iconic words of Will Rogers: a stranger is a friend I haven’t met, and how a group of us put the idea into practice:
Some years ago, a group of NOW friends in the NY/NJ/CT tri-state area launched a quiet campaign that won us a lot of points towards LGBT visibility, even if it’s hard to precisely quantify such strides. The campaign consisted of buttons bordered with the rainbow flag and containing these words: “Ask and I’ll Tell You.” In a matter of weeks, dozens of NOW lesbian activists deployed themselves (no one deploys Lesbians but ourselves, please) to bus and train stations, malls, bookstores and anywhere large crowds waited and congregated. Our mission was simply to walk about sporting the large buttons flagrantly on our coats and lapels whilst looking at strangers fearlessly in the eye. One by one, sometimes timidly and sometimes with chip-on-shoulder, the questions came. “Alright,” the passersby said to us, “I’ll ask, I’ll ask! What should I be asking?” Our answer came in many ways. Sometimes we simply said, “Well, I’ll tell you what it’s like to be gay and lesbian in our society, in or out of the military.” Sometimes we said, “Well, I’ll tell you what happened to my sister and her life partner when one of them could not visit the other in the hospital.” And so on. Each conversation was individual, humanizing and ultimately transformative. We made a lot of friends out of strangers in those short days. We left some of them laughing and some of them crying. Their humanity connected with ours. It was wonderful to wage peace in such a fashion.
I am not terminally optimistic (though the charge has occasionally been leveled against me), nor do I think it’s always possible to turn hate mongers into friends or inject reason into the unreasonably benighted. I believe that the great battle must be waged in the high courts, at the White House and in Congress, and that as voters we must exert every pressure available to us to bring about full parity and LGTB rights to our nation. But I am also convinced that, ultimately, you win the skirmishes and you win the war. And those skirmishes, even if they seem like a drop in the bucket at the time, have ripples that ripple. Each time we have an opportunity to speak up and speak out, we need to exercise full moral courage and do so, even if it seems hard at first. Writing letters to the media, talking with our relatives and co-workers and even striking a conversation with a yet-to-be friend on the bus—these are all carpe diem opportunities at hand.
I still have dozens of those “Ask and I’ll Tell You” buttons around and plan to share them with a coalition of the willing when I get to Seattle in the not too distant.
In sisterhood, Himilce Novas
Queer is Multicultural by Himilce Novas for The Multicultural Review:
Blue Fingernails reviewed in Multicultural Review: