QueerI once gave a talk to a group of young activists, where I stated and received a fairly shocked response, that if people were dogs, there would be no need for activists at all. Dogs are easily trained. But people… that’s another story. Part of my point was to get these young people to question the very notion of activism. Why is it that we do what we do? Is our goal to train people and get them to act as we want, or is the real goal of the activist to empower people to become engaged in changing the world around them? Few want to think about the difference, because success with first- trained people- can be measured, and anything measured can be evaluated as successful or not. Empowering people isn’t like that. You can suggest potential measures, but the reality is that success shows up over time. It isn’t found in simple metrics.

Many of us love our dogs as if they are our children and we treat them wonderfully. As it should be. But to expect people to respond like dogs to activist attempts at behavior modification is highly arrogant and rude. To do activism any other way however, requires activists to be highly motivated, thoughtful, purposeful, and patient people. And, they must be full of compassion, and constantly self-reflective. Because if we are going to really empower people, we must make sure that we aren’t guilty of the same tactics that are used to disempower people. The ends don’t justify the means, because the means will produce the same results. Using a power-over, bullying approach to stop anti-gay homophobes is no more successful in the long run that when they try and use that same technique against the LGBTQ Community.

I know, I’ve already started to lose some readers. The idea of “winning” and beating down our opponents is a powerful desire that many appreciate. And here I am claiming that it is the wrong way to go. Empowering people is the real path to success, even if it is hard at some points to see the progress or success it is causing. I’ll say more about seeing success a bit later.

This isn’t a new mindset for me- I’ve believed this for sometime, but listening to an interview with Dan Savage on the radio talking about the “It Gets Better” Project reminded me and got me thinking about examples of this empowering model compared to the other model. Savage is under attack by some trans activists although I’m guessing that at this point, he is pretty immune to baseless attacks. Anyone really trying to create change has to become immune because the attacks will be there. But It Gets Better is a prime example of empowering people as opposed to trying to dog train them. The online presence of these videos and the ability for dialogue creates the opportunity for real mentoring, community building and empowerment.

The seemingly instant recent success of marriage equality is another example of empowerment creating change. It wasn’t some social media campaign, or some march on Washington that did it. It was a lot of small and meaningful efforts by many people in many places that created an environment for an explosion of marriage equality to happen. Many activists played a role as many average, everyday people.

One reason, marriage equality has been successful is because there are so many gay and lesbian couples out there who have been together in spite of the fact that they had no legal support for their relationship. My partner and I have been together for 17 years for example, and I remember being a part of a commitment ceremony for two close friends, twenty years ago. Couples like us as well as the communities of people supporting these couples are examples of empowerment that was necessary for change to occur. If my readers are interested in more about this, leave comments and I’ll write more to explain this idea.

We can learn from the Civil Rights efforts from the past, that a change in laws alone do not create real equality or we only need to look towards the abortion issue to see that even where a legal decision seems concrete, the opposition will continue to find ways to marginalized and hinder the rights of individuals. Activist efforts for full LGBTQ Equality must be such that they empower individuals in ways so that there can be no erosion of our rights once achieved.

Can Pride help us do that? I think so, if we stop and remember why Pride exists and what started inside and outside of a seedy bar in New York City so long ago. The effort there was very much a rebellion against those who were treating gay, lesbian, bi, and trans persons as if they were less than human, and a few brave individuals stood up and fought back. And then this refusal to be disempowered spread and a few days of rioting ensued.

The community is riding high at the moment given the wave of successes for marriage equality, but the right to marry is not won yet everywhere, and even when it is, it doesn’t provide full equality. We can be thrilled with the right to marry, but we are selling ourselves short if we take it as enough. Anything less that full equality is not enough. This must include protections from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, protections for youth against bullying, and deepened trust and support for the LGBTQ community by┬áthe various branches of the public safety community of police, firefighters, EMT, etc. As it started with Stonewall, let’s now use Pride to help us refocus. Marriage Equality is awesome, but it isn’t enough. Let Pride encourage us to demand more and seek in through empowerment ofd the whole of our diverse collective of communities.

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