c) Activism and social change
What cost equality?
This article was published in MCV on 26.1.10.
Recent revelations that high-profile campaigner, Peter Tatchell, has brain damage from the beatings heís incurred defending LGBT human rights, highlights the cost of standing up for equality.
Itís a message that has been re-inforced by reports of opponents of anti-gay laws in places like Uganda and Malawi being beaten and gaoled.
Most LGBT human rights defenders do not suffer this much. But there is almost always a price to be paid for speaking out against prejudice.
Harassment is a serious problem. When a Chilean couple, Juan and Pedro, recently spoke to the newspapers about the homophobic and racist attacks theyíve suffered at their Hobart housing estate, the attacks became even more threatening.
The couple have found unexpected allies in their neighbourhood. But perhaps the most troubling response of all has been from some of the officials who should be finding them a new home. Instead, they have blamed the couple for making things worse for themselves.
Ostracism from family and community is also a problem, and while it is endured by many LGBT people it is often worse for advocates and activists.
When a motherís pleads ďI donít mind if youíre gay, just donít tell anyone elseĒ, or a friend declares ďyouíre okay, itís the ones who make a fuss I donít likeĒ, they are re-inforcing societyís spell of silence about homosexuality, a spell which is a curse for activists.
Discrimination in employment inevitably follows where social disapproval leads.
Few people know that gay blood donation campaigner, Michael Cain, was forced out of a job because of his brave stand against discrimination. He refused to make a fuss that would distract from the bigger issue.
Unfortunately, Michael is not alone. In my experience, those LGBT activists who have not suffered at work because of their activism are in the minority.
Perhaps most hurtful of all is the cold shoulder and even hostility that LGBT human rights defenders can suffer from other LGBT people.
Some of this bad treatment comes from those who have spent their lifetime avoiding the attention, the labels and the public indignation that can be an activistís lot.
Some of it comes from those with such unrealistic expectations and deep needs that whatever an activist does will let them down.
Some of it is just about the kind of petty rivalry and competing agendas to be found in any minority community.
Of course, there are rewards: the joy of seeing lives, and if weíre lucky, entire societies, change for the better; the insight gained into oneself and others; the satisfaction of working with others for something bigger than us all.
But none of this is compensation for the failure of the LGBT community to properly support and resource those responsible for its legal recognition and social acceptance.
Just as we have programs for newly-identifying, older, ethnic or HIV+ LGBT people, so we must find ways to sustain those who make change.
Programs exist elsewhere that provide LGBT human rights defenders with skills, training, and where necessary, emotional and financial help.
Itís time for such a program in Australia.
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