Recently I’ve read several books on LGBTQ issues and political advocacy. In the last few years, enormous gains have been achieved in USA and parts of EU in terms of LGBTQ rights – mainly in terms of marriage equality. In 2010, “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed by Congress, then in 2013 parts of DOMA were struck down and Prop 8 was invalidated as well by the Supreme Court.
In 2015 the Obergefell decision by the Supreme Court instituted same-sex marriage for all 50 states. In EU, UK’s parliament voted on same-sex marriage, which came into force in 2014, France legalized same sex marriages in 2013. Ireland became the first country in the world to institute same-sex marriage through a popular vote referendum in 2015.
The advances in equality has been won by the dedicated effort and sacrifice of numerous known and unknown activists, who have fought tirelessly toward those causes. Without such type of activism – to push politicians, to slowly change people’s minds through coming out and challenging norms, to work every day to improve the lives of many lgbtq people, we probably would have been still in situation similar to the one in the 1980s. One of the best lessons from the lgbtq fight for equality has been the importance of activism, of continued pressure on the institutions, of the work to win equal rights.
But we should remember that there is still urgent need for such types of activism. That’s why books like It’s Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality by Michelangelo Signorile and Don’t Tell Me to Wait: How the Fight for Gay Rights Changed America and Transformed Obama’s Presidency by Kerry Eleveld are worth reading. They shed a light on the importance of activists and why pressuring politicians is more necessary than ever.
In “Don’t Tell Me to Wait“, Kerry Eleveld masterfully explains the work towards the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell”, as well as other LGBTQ issues. The repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was in reality not high on the priority list for Democrats – stalling tactics and lack of a concrete plans from the Democrats and the Presidents were putting in jeopardy the whole initiative. Eleveld was among many who wrote a very truthful article where she reiterated that “Don’t ask, don’t tell’ repeal is most likely dead. Goodness knows, I hope to be wrong, but nothing short of a December-induced miracle on 34th Street could resurrect it now”. In fact, many politicians were ready to skirt the issue, and were it not for the tireless work of many individuals and groups to push and confront the President, maybe we would have had a different reality.
In the beginning of the book Eleveld notes that “queer activists, partly because of their profound heartache on election night while much of the nation celebrated, would become the first members of Obama’s base to both vocalize their discontent and mobilize against his administration”. And this is true. Activists were not satisfied only to write letters and lobby the power elites. They organized and carried massive protests in Washington, DC, including chaining themselves on the White House fence. LGBTQ members showed at the president’s speeches where they shouted him down, they pulled financial support from the president and the DNC and more importantly they began to openly push for an environment of discontent through online media.
Another quote from the book for me is incredibly significant: “What was clear to anyone who had a view to the White House was that activists’ continual prodding frustrated President Obama and his aides.”. Hardly so much would have been achieved, had it not been for the continuous pressure from the grassroot movement, traditional organizations, as well as the blogosphere, helping with information and further increasing the pressure on the administration. Those combined efforts helped to bring forward absolutely stunning results in terms of passed initiatives.
In the second book “It’s not over“, Mr. Signorile focuses on the subject of victory blindness, which could be crucial disadvantage to such movements. What he means by victory blindness, is the propensity of activists, media, politicians and regular people, once a big achievement is accomplished, to declare that since the battle is won, the war is over as well. On the contrary, the author observes, those advances are underlying the rise of a backlash against the community – whether the creation of the “bathroom bills”, equal non-discrimination ordinances that are removed, the emergence of “religious freedom bills”.
Therefore, the presence of activists and continuous pressure from the community is more important than ever. Otherwise, all the advances will be backtracked. And to showcase his point, he gives example to the Pro-choice movement and its current struggle, which is a direct backlash from the Roe vs. Wade decision. The author also contends that LGBTQ community should not be magnanimous in the wins. Rather LGBTQ people should demand full equality, regardless the backlash because only through confrontation and fight(mostly in the political arena, through civil disobedience and protests) one can consolidate the progress made in the last 20 years. The LGBTQ community should also not “cover” themselves in order to be like the rest. We should maintain the similarities and differences between the general population and the LGBTQ community. It is important for people to see that LGBTQ people exist, that they are there to stay with full equal rights. It’s Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality is rather fantastic book for activists and regular people who think the fight for equality is done. Notwithstanding the progress reached, a lot more needs to be done and if we are not vigilant, the right wing (regardless the country) will push back, until the LGBTQ community is in the shadows. Thus, activism is ever more important to reduce complacency.
I highly recommend those two books for those thinking about activism and its role in our society today. It will leave you with the firm believe that activism continues long after the specific task is accomplish because those rights need to be protected. One minute of rest and your gains might be chipped away, little by little. Look at the abortion rights, voting rights, civil rights for African-American. Such problems constantly follow minorities and continuous activism is vital. And if you are not one for activism – you are still able to bring something to the table – your VOTE on every election counts, whether you believe it or not. By voting, people can remove representatives that are against equality. Money of course also talks – whether you financially support an organization which actively campaigns against you could be potentially of utmost relevance to you and your community.