Screaming Internal Activist by Jenny Suidan
Hello Ameriqueer readers. My name is Jenny and I am your guest blogger today. I was approached by Phil to write a little something for this blog and I was flattered. Then I was left wondering what I’m going to write about. The guidance I was given was to write “anything. As long as it is GLBT and related to America.” So I thought about this rather daunting, large topic and started trying to think of something specific to talk about. You see, I’m something of a sporadic blogger myself but my blogs are essentially just rambling tangents about things that I am thinking about or random misadventures in Detroit. I work in politics so I get almost too much news all the time so when I write I tend to go towards amusing rather than fact based or informative. So here I am, thinking about what I’m going to write, something GLBT and related to America but a little witty and opinion based—that is my goal here. I hope you enjoy the ride.
So where to start? Perhaps a little bit of something about myself. I have for sometime been something of a GLBT activist. I served on the Detroit steering committee of HRC, was a staff member for HRC in 2007 and while in college, served as co-president for the Gay/Straight Alliance. I am also something of a Democratic activist. I currently serve on as treasurer for my local county Democratic Party, I have worked for various elected officials and currently, work as a fundraiser for the Mayor of a Detroit suburb, Michigan. I don’t think that there is really too much else that you need to know about me for my purposes here today.
In my time I have found that sometimes I have to use my best judgment about speaking my mind. And when I have to do that, I can feel my internal activist go crazy. We are going to talk about her tonight, my flipping out, internal activist that is sometimes forced into silence. Admit it, I have you intrigued. Now I have a friend who is in the process of coming out as bisexual and I am the only of our mutual work friends who knows. I am very happy that he trusts me and wants to talk to me about what he is going through but there are a good number of conversations that we have in our daily lives that I think are making this whole business harder for him. Don’t get me wrong; I am very aware that this is a very difficult thing, coming out and being honest and true with yourself. But I have found that the people who make that internal activist flair up with crazy. Let’s talk about some of this nonsense.
A couple months ago while in a gay bar with my newly coming out friend, we happened upon a former state Representative that everyone knows is gay but no one knows is gay. We met that night and become kind of friends. At the end of the evening he asked both of us to respect his secret and not tell anyone. I bit my tongue and nodded begrudgingly while my internal activist screamed in protest as I silently helped this man hide out in his closet. A short while after that, I met another local elected official who more or less asked me to do the same thing for him, though admittedly far less directly. My internal activist (I feel like I should name her but nothing is coming to me) was throwing a fit. She was outraged to see my outward person just carrying on like it was okay for these men to stay closeted.
A couple of weeks ago, I was helping a candidate fill out an endorsement form for a local GLBT political organization and I was doing my best to make her answers sound phenomenal and score her this endorsement. This candidate is an African-American woman and as I took notes on her answers, I had to stop myself from making faces. She is a religious woman but for some reason, it never occurred to me that her faith would get in the way of her supporting equality. Alright, let me be clear, she doesn’t support gay marriage because she thinks that marriage is a religious institution but does think that all people should be allowed the same rights that are afforded by marriage. That didn’t make my internal activist too crazy; it was when she said that from her position, she wouldn’t preside over a commitment ceremony. She knows a lot of GLBT folks, some of whom are members of her staff, people that she has elected to serve in County Democratic Party and other various activists that she interacts with. And the thing is that she knows that they are gay and still doesn’t feel any kind of personal attachment to the GLBT community. It made me so sad and a little bit pissed off when I had to write down an answer in which she really said “my first positive experience with a member of the GLBT person was when a co-worker came out to me and I realized how normal she was.” And I know that isn’t an uncommon thing, but it wasn’t the only time during this conversation where she kept saying normal and immediately pointed out examples of people she knows who are GLBT who aren’t. I wanted to make it personal for her but instead I bit my tongue.
I have quite a few gay friends, which I’m sure you find hard to believe and I am fortunate enough to work with two of them (and my coming out friend) daily. But the two friends I’m talking about here are people who have been out for a long time and were the kind of boys that took boys to their high school proms. Every time I hear one of them ask “does this make me look to gay?” or “do I sound too gay?” my inner activist flairs up and argues with them. They will argue with me about gay marriage and about the ability to win as an openly homosexual candidate for public office. I don’t back down but it is exhausting to have to fight people who are supposed to be on the side that I’m fighting for.
So with all of these experiences floating around in my mind and my friend who is coming out experiencing them right along side of me, I can’t help but wonder what is wrong with our political climate that people still feel like they have to hide in a closet to be successful? The friends that I spoke of are my age, they are relatively young men who have such bright futures ahead of them and they are in an outstanding position to be role models for those younger gays coming up behind them who want to be able to be both open and honest and in politics. But instead, they try to hide. Of course it’s only about half way. They are still out but they spend way too much energy trying to make it a non-issue. I know that the candidate I talked about before does her own bit to add to making my friends feel less comfortable with being activists for their own cause but I fail to understand how people can assume that things can change if people are content to stay hiding in their closets.
It is my belief that there is a greater social obligation to be a role model for the younger generation who are watching whether we acknowledge it or not. And that is what my internal activists wants all of these political folks to acknowledge. Just realize that there is so much potential and the only thing they have to do is be themselves. We can not change minds, influence pro-GLBT policies or succeed in full equality unless this becomes a goal for the members of GLBT community and allies. Politics can be a much more friendly place for those in the GLBT community and there can be major electoral success and that is what I am happily awaiting.
Yes, my internal activist is currently satisfied because her retaliation for my annoying silence at time is controlled rants about the topic at hand. I am convinced that some day people won’t be afraid to be out, open and honest when they run for public office rather than hiding out in gay bars at night and working as legislators during the day. Of course this is no easy task but eventually the work that we all do, and we all expect, will be what gets us to this goal.
Well, that’s all I have for you today. I hope you enjoyed my social experiment in guest blogging and having me as your tour guide in Ameriqueer land. It was my pleasure sharing with you today.