5 Important Things Gay Activists Need You To Know


Messages the LGBT political movement would send if we understood our social purpose.

This week I attended an event hosted by Slate Magazine, at which Evan Wolfson, the founder of Freedom to Marry and the architect of the gay marriage movement, spoke. Anyone who knows me knows my mixed feelings about gay marriage—it's wonderful that we now have this right, but I've always questioned this being such a top priority for our movement.

It's moot. Same-sex couples can get married. This new right has created much joy and relieved considerable suffering. And who knows—maybe one day my partner and I will decide it’s for us. But that’s not what this post is about.

Someone in the audience asked Wolfson what he saw as being next. And who better to ask than the man who had the vision and audacity to launch his quest for equal marriage in 1983 and persist through the darkest of eras—AIDS, DOMA, and the state-level backlash to gay marriage that reached a crescendo in the Bush era.

Wolfson’s response was in many ways predictable—that we should focus on a federal-level anti-discrimination law.

Prompted by a question from the audience about the potentially deep resistance to such an idea—and to gays and lesbians in general—Wolfson emphasized the need to change the hearts and minds of those who can be moved, and to stop trying to change the incorrigible bigots. In this way, he said, we will isolate and neutralize our adversaries. Words of wisdom from a master strategist.

Wolfson linked the sea change in public opinion on gay marriage to gays and lesbians coming out and being themselves. Harvey Milk’s invocation, he suggested, worked. Indeed, gays and lesbians changed consciousness—we opened hearts and minds by living openly.

And yet, the underlying message in this campaign has always been, “We are just like you except for our sexual orientation.”

As I make the case in Gay Men and The New Way Forward, this notion is a half-truth that ultimately serves no one. We need a new tool to make our case. Gays and lesbians have driven political and consciousness change because we awakened to who we are. But our movement has not been fully authentic and representative of this.

If we wish to break through the deep resistance of our adversaries, we need to make a new case based on greater authenticity, that:

  • Our distinct qualities enable us to make singular and necessary contributions to society. 
  • We are integral to our communities. 
  • By denying us the safety and security that all others enjoy, society denies itself the benefits that we contribute.

Here's what kick-ass gay activism would say to our adversaries and those who can be moved:

1. We serve and heal you.

We listen to you without judgment. We know what it’s like to feel outside and to be the “other.” We are the sensitive ones who feel your pain. 

We provide service and healing to you in untold ways: We are your priests and pastors, your hairdressers, your therapists, your teachers, your doctors and nurses.We are your family caregivers. We are your friends, the people on the job who help you solve intractable problems because we see things from a different perspective.

2. We free your spirit

We create the culture that you cherish, and which makes life a joy to live. We bring you beauty through fashion, art, décor, and style. We inspire you to live authentically and courageously—to listen to and follow your heart as we have done. We expand what it means to be men, so that all men may be free. We help you embrace and celebrate your sexuality.

3. We bring balance to our communities.

We provide grounding that reduces violence in your towns and cities. We help you see both sides of an issue. We challenge hatred where it exists so that love may flourish. We see you for who you are—and we embrace you.

4. You need us.

Without safety and security to live our lives freely, we cannot serve and heal you. We cannot free your spirit. We cannot bring balance to the towns, cities, and communities we live in.  

5. We need you.

Without you, most of us wouldn’t be here. We need the gifts and service that you provide to us. We need you to parent us, so that we may grow to be contributing adults. We need your love so that we may be whole.

We need each other. In an interdependent world, when one group suffers, we all suffer. 

The gay rights movement is one driven by awakening and courage: we awakened to our sexuality and have had the courage to live according to it. This has expanded consciousness about what it means to be human. But we are still not being fully authentic.

We can pursue a political agenda based on a half-awakened consciousness, or we can fully come out as people who play important and necessary roles in society. I know which will have the greater impact.

This article was originally published at Words to the Wise, my blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.