“One 1994 American Academy of Pediatrics study . . . found that of 249 cases of child sexual abuse, only two offenders were identified as gay or lesbian. The PERSON Project underscored, ‘In this sample, a child’s risk of being molested by a heterosexual partner of a relative is more than 100 times greater than by somebody who might be identifiable as being homosexual, lesbian, or bisexual.'”Understanding Gay and Lesbian Youth: Lessons
for Straight School Teachers, Counselors, and Administrators,
available from Amazon.com
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California Proposition 8, which changed the California state constitution to prevent gay marriages, was a major blow to those lobbying for gay and bisexual rights across the United States. As a result of the passing of Proposition 8, there was a lot of anger and frustration expressed by GLBT individuals and their straight allies. Protests took against the passing of Proposition 8 took place in many places. Joe Solmonese was one of the speakers at the Human Rights Campaign Los Angeles Gala Dinner. In his speech at the Los Angeles dinner, he talked about turning the collective community pain into collective power. His entire speech can be seen on the Human Rights Campaign You Tube web site.
Joe Salmonese’s speech makes a wonderful jumping off point for the discussion of gay rights and the continued struggle to end the hatred and oppression of all minority groups. Collective pain turned collective power makes an impact. When minority groups turn the collective pain of prejudice, discrimination, hate, and hate crimes into collective power, effective political action results. The civil rights marches of the 1960s, the Stonewall riots, Pride parades, and political lobbying are all examples of collective anger turned to collective power.
William Cross theorized there might be five stages in Black racial identity development. The second stage in his developmental theory is thought to start when a Black person understands how racism impacts personally on him or herself. William Cross’ theory makes a good place to discuss the results of discrimination on minority group identity, and in the promotion of activism in minority groups.
Understanding the impact of racism on a person’s life might help promote a stronger racial identity among members of visible minority groups. Encountering religious based discrimination can result in a stronger religious identity for members of minority religious groups. Personal experiences of homophobia and transphobia might help promote a stronger queer identity for members of sexual minorities.
Those who believe discrimination keeps minority people in their place might be surprised. In fact discrimination might have exactly the opposite result. Acts of discrimination can help draw a distinct line between different groups. For some people, discrimination might even serve to trigger activism.
One chapter in the book “Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” is about racial identity development in adolescents. According to the authors, one day Malcolm X mentioned to a teacher that he wanted to be a lawyer. The teacher replied, “That’s no realistic goal for a nigger.”** He was advised to consider a career in something like carpentry. As a result of the teacher’s comment, the author says Malcolm X started to withdraw from his White classmates, and moved from a mainly White community to a mainly Black community. Later Malcolm X became a leader in the American civil rights movement. Malcolm X helped change the face of American history.
Violent hate crimes can strike fear deep in the heart of a community. These extreme acts can also serve as a spark for community anger, an anger that helps fire an activist spirit in individuals and entire communities. Arguments against same-sex marriage that are high in rhetoric, fear, misperceptions, and prejudice are fanning the fires of a new generation of gay rights activists. As church groups opposed to same-gender marriages launch offensive advertising campaigns against homosexuality and bisexuality, young GLBT people are seeing they have no choice but to step out of the closet and carry the torch of queer human rights.
When the language of war and military conquest is used by religious and civil leaders who are opposed to same-sex marriages, those opposing gay marriage are increasingly becoming seen as extremists, and in some cases as dangerous extremists. The legalization of same-sex marriages in Canada and the election of Obama could be the start of the swing of the political and social pendulum away from neo-conservatism. If we are seeing the swing in the pendulum toward a more liberal society, the extremists have nobody to blame but themselves. Their passionate, hate-filled language, filled with rich war images, have frightened many more moderate people. Any time a movement loses more moderate people, a movement is starting to lose political power.
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Volunteers are the backbone of activism. Men and women who are full-time students or full-time employees, and part-time activists, are a vital activists in the campaign to reduce violence and hatred. Balancing studies, work, and family duties with activism is difficult. The hearts of many activists are torn between a passion for justice and change, and competing demands for limited time, energy, and resources. Because so much needs to be done, there is a tendency for many lay activists to feel guilty about not being able to do more and to feel discouraged about the slow progress of societal change. The combination of discouragement and fatigue can result in burnout among volunteer activists.
Just “do your best” does not feel adequate. But do your best is all activists should do. In the audio book The Four Agreements, Don Ruiz makes the point that one’s best is determined by the conditions. For a retired activist thirty hours a week promoting the values of a more kind, gentle, inclusive society might be doing one’s best. A college student spending a summer in volunteer community activism might be doing one’s best. A volunteer activist holding a demanding job and caring for a family might find three or four hours a month is doing one’s best. Under ideal conditions, a person can volunteer a lot of time and make a profound difference. Unfortunately, conditions are not ideal. If we lived in ideal conditions, there would be no need for activists, no need for campaigns for human rights, no need for demonstrations against war or violence, and no need for groups such as Stop Hate 2000.
We encourage you to do your best to change society, to leave society a better place. But we encourage those who have a passion for social justice to do their best, for the conditions in which they live, and to not feel guilty for not being able to accomplish more than their best.
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