Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Voice of Apathy

A few days ago, I wrote an article in which I asked whether or not gay people should up and leave the South. There has been quite a bit of discussion regarding that article, from facebook comments, tweets, as well as even a YouTube video, on how the LGBT community should deal with the persecution that we face daily within this particular region of the country. Though, as many commentators have pointed out, homophobia and transphobia exist in all areas of the country, there is something particular about the level of disgust for our community in the South, and it is because of this discrimination that we face on a day-to-day basis that many have called for an exodus of LGBT people from these states.

As I said in that article, the belief that we must leave our homes, families, and lives so that we can be accepted, is not only counterproductive to our very movement, but makes us cowards and not deserving of the rights that we are entitled to have. That article argued against the voices of 'reason', in favor of staying and fighting. It argued against willfully giving up, and knowingly backing down.

But my focus upon these voices of cowardice has seemed to muffle the other voice that cries out at our community, a voice that is just as, if not more dangerous than the former. The voice of apathy.

I wrote a piece in October that touched upon the voice of apathy, and how it impacts our fight for equality. When I observed the level of excitement and involvement by our community when it came to participating in Mid-South pride, I was struck with profound sadness. I wrote that,
In some estimates given, there were thousands of LGBT people and straight allies at this event; yet does this "pride" in our community spill over into the ballot box? We can have floats and marchers galore, but how many of these people who put time and energy into building a float, put the same time and energy in advocating for our legal and social equality? Why does our community come out in droves for events such as Pride, but yet when we have the option to elect pro-equality members of our city government, no one shows up? 
LGBT southerners might bristle at the notion that we must leave our homes so that we might be more equal, yet where are we when our religious institutions speak out against equality? Where are we when our state governments consider legislation that would have devastating effects upon our community? Why is it that  more gay men are at the bar on a Saturday night than at a rally trying to defeat amendments that enshrine discrimination in our constitutions?

To be blunt, our community is selfish; we expect others to do the hard work for us. I know this from personal experience, because there have been many times where I have unwittingly bought into this selfishness. I have told myself, "why should I write a letter to my representative or editor, I am sure that someone else will do it, it probably won't get published anyway".

We might not intentionally listen to the voice of apathy, but our lives show that we do. We spend hours insulated within our little communities, without venturing into the 'real world', where homophobia and discrimination exist. We try to hide ourselves, not wanting to recognize that we exist in a fundamentally unequal society. We tell ourselves, "I'm not planning on getting married anytime soon" or "My boss is OK with gay people, so I don't need any employment protections" as rationals for doing nothing. Because we do not see these inequalities as being pertinent to our lives, we don't feel the need to address them. Instead, we focus on the instant gratification of our Pride parades, our bars, and the cute guy who winked at us at the grocery store. Are these bad in an of themselves? Not at all!! But when our focus becomes these instant pleasures versus the long-term health of our community, we must ask ourselves whether our priorities are out of whack.

Many will find issue with my analysis of selfishness and its relationship to apathy. To some, there are legitimate reasons to not getting involved, such as ones emotional health and well-being. To these people, the negativity and the constant barrage of hatred that surrounds our fight is too painful. It may be too much for them to constantly hear from society that they are "inferior", "deviant", or "going to hell".  Though such feelings are understandable, I would challenge these individuals to consider how such pain is actually perpetuated by not doing anything. We do not exist in a vacuum, for cultural attitudes have both direct and indirect impact upon our emotional well being. If we exist in a society that 'hates' us and where it is ok to openly compare LGBT people with pedophiles and murderers, we will still feel and have to deal with such pain. Instead of working to end such pain, silence reinforces it, and lengthens its approval within society. Additionally, it could be said that when we engage in advocacy, we establish for ourselves a safety net of emotional support. No longer are we gong through this fight on our own, but instead can be encouraged by others who are working through similar problems.

Our community has some amazing people that put enormous time and energy into fighting for our rights. In Tennessee, I know many individuals who have made it their priority to make this state a welcoming haven for all Americans, no matter what sexual orientation or gender identity they have. Yet these individuals can only do so much. They need our help to make our society safe for our community. Instead of listening to the voice of apathy and wallowing in the selfishness of complacency and instant pleasure, we must stand and fight.
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