As the woman behind the counter stuffed my order into a white waxed-paper bag, I started seriously considering the next four years. The fog of denial in which I’d surrounded myself lifted, giving way to a cold shock of fear. That’s when I started crying.
If you’re going to have a good cry, I don’t recommend doing it in a donut shop. It’s embarrassing, and at some point you need to take your order, pay the nice people, and go. But that’s the real lesson, isn’t it? Indulge yourself, and then keep going.
And going, even in the face of overwhelming adversity and hostility.
Last year, state legislatures across the country introduced an astonishing number of anti-LGBT measures, a trend that we can expect to continue well into 2017. And although our new president dubiously describes himself as a champion of the LGBT community, his cabinet boasts a rogues’ gallery of anti-equality villains. If we truly want accountability, it’s our responsibility to normalize the demand for equality and social justice.
You can start by making small changes in your own lives.
The first step is acknowledging that being an advocate and a true ally requires education and a willingness to sacrifice. We need to be willing to learn and admit when we are wrong. We need to be cognizant of our own language. That means using the pronouns that people request and challenging ourselves to eliminate words or phrases that diminish or devalue others. And when language fails, we need to ensure that we’re willing to take action by intervening on behalf of the most vulnerable. If you see something, do something.
Money talks, too. Organizations like the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, the Human Rights Campaign, and even the Sierra Club have been receiving record numbers of donations. But while those organizations may have the power to lobby Washington, they’re probably not effecting direct changes in your community. Instead, consider donating time, money, or your expertise to local advocacy and service groups that will make a difference in the lives of your friends, families, and neighbors. You might be surprised by how many local nonprofits need people to sit on their boards and take an active role in shaping the direction of the organization.
We also need to make time to challenge all levels of our government.
Don’t worry — it’s a lot easier than you might think. Spend some quality time with Google and add the contact information for your local elected officials and members of Congress into your phone. It’s hard to believe, but lawmakers are indeed beholden to their constituents, and it’s on you to remind them. If making phone calls produces the same bead of anxiety for you as it does for me, get comfortable being uncomfortable, and call often. When you do, identify yourself as a constituent and share your comments and concerns. Reference specific bill numbers, if possible, and encourage them to support people and policies that promote equality and basic human rights.
It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a start.
We’re only halfway through the first month of the new year, and I’ll admit that I’m still scared and frustrated. But that’s OK. Remember: we are all stronger when we work consistently and together. Keep the flame burning.