This year marks 30 years of activism for me. In 1986 I started my first volunteer gig with and HIV/AIDS outreach and support organization in San Jose, CA. At that time, AIDS had only been a known entity for five years. Still, at 12 years old, I felt a need to get involved and help in some way.
Since then, I have spent thousands of hours working in various communities and donating time and services to try and improve my communities. I have done this as a volunteer, a consultant, and as a professional. I have working with people living with HIV/AIDS, the LGBTQ community, women, veterans and others near and dear to my heart.
Since I have reached the 30 year mark, it seems like a good point to reflect on activism and social change.
Some Things Have Changed for the Better
Honestly, I am largely disillusioned with fighting for change. However, I still see that some things have changed for the better.
AIDS is not a death sentence for everyone. This is a qualified statement. If you make enough money to have adequate health insurance AND access to a specialty physician, AND you are fortunate enough to be in a community that supports testing and treatment, AND you actually know your status, AIDS is no longer a death sentence. With drug advancements, many people are finding HIV and AIDS to be manageable ailments. We even have people who have been living with HIV for 15, 20, and even 25 years. This is a great step from the days when diagnosis to death averaged 6 months.
Trans folks are more acceptable. Again, this is a qualified statement. Trans folks still face tremendous amounts of discrimination and violence. HOWEVER, there is a wider recognition that trans is a legit thing and some people feel safe enough to come out of that closet and be themselves. We are at least past the days when LGB groups were having conniptions about including the T.
Gay kids in many places can come out. I came out in 1987. I was the only out kid on my high school campus. I am largely unaware if anything was said about this by people other than my friends because I am blessed/cursed with the ability to remain oblivious to what people think about me (I generally just don’t care).
I was out before Ellen was cast in Mr. Wrong (He was obviously wrong because it was a HE!!!). I was out before there were rumors that Melissa Etheridge MIGHT be gay. I was out when the only gay character on television that year was the kid in Doing Time on Maple Drive – a Hallmark Channel original. LOL
So now, in most places, gay kids can come out to some people. There is still a lot of discrimination, violence and harassment, but gay kids have a few more role models than Liberace and the “brave” cover model on Curve magazine.
Gays can get married! Woo hoo! Ok, we got one right. Now, lets try to fight for the right to work, the right to rear children, and the right to walk down the street without getting beat the fuck up.
The capitalists vultures have now swooped in to make gay weddings as garish as hetero ones… but hey, at least we are equally preyed upon.
Some Things Have Not Changed
We still don’t have a cure for HIV. 35 years people! 35 years and we have treatments, but no vaccine and no cure. It took 2 years from the point of a major ebola outbreak to eliminating ebola in the country the outbreak took place. Politicians and pharmaceutical companies continue to pursue profits through treatment but not cures and don’t really care who is harmed and killed in the process. I am calling bullshit on the inability to find a cure.
LGBT Folks are STILL the target for violence. Any statistics about violence – rape, murder, assault, domestic violence – are worse when your are LGBT. We still get targeted by homophobes. Violence against us is encouraged by church leaders and politicians.
You can still be fired for stupid reasons. In most states, you can be fired outright for being trans. In an majority of states, you can be fired simply for being gay. Somehow, we can find it appropriate to allow people who embezzle funds from a company or who bully co-workers to be put on a “remediation” plan that allows them to keep their job, but who I sleep when when I go home somehow makes me an unqualified employee. This is stupid, it needs to end.
And… Some Stuff Has Gotten Worse
Abandon all brains, ye who enter here! We have become vastly anti-intellectual. When did “going to Harvard” become an insult??? Congress routinely denies all scientific evidence to promote hate-filled agendas. The Right has demonized universities. And being a general idiot is now widely celebrated in the media.
Racism is out of control. Police departments have standard procedures for dealing with the press after an officer shoots an unarmed Black man. Let me repeat that. POLICE DEPARTMENTS HAVE STANDARD PROCEDURES FOR DEALING WITH THE PRESS AFTER AN OFFICER SHOOTS AN UNARMED BLACK MAN. Just let that sink in.
Rape Culture is flourishing. Politicians have created the idea of “legitimate rape.” Rape on television and in music is seen as “not so bad.” Date rape drugs are widely available. We still think men deserve access to women’s bodies. They don’t. Its not okay to rape. We have a very long road to walk before women are close to safe.
So, where are we at?