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Monday, 29 November 2010

Going Beyond the Gay

Posted on Advocate.com November 29, 2010

Advocate columnist Jimmy Nguyen says efforts like It Gets Better and Lady Gaga's campaign to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" prove what happens when we stop preaching to the choir and reach out to the congregation.

Lady Gaga at Mtv's Video Music Awards 
Boycott Target. Boycott Best Buy. Wear purple on October 20. On National Coming Out Day, colorize your profile picture. It Gets Better. Lady Gaga calls senator to urge ending "don't ask, don't tell." Really, no joke, it’s Lady Gaga — on her mobile phone.

If you’re into social media, these are the messages that in 2010 filled your Facebook wall, Twitter feed, and other digital spaces. For LGBT people who feel frustrated that equality is not coming fast enough, social media campaigns allow us to easily voice our inner Norma Rae. They also appeal to our desire to be trendsetters who can ignite, or at least be part of, the next big thing.

But are we really accomplishing anything besides making ourselves feel good? Too often, these digital directives are delivered primarily to our Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and virtual world chums. Those people are either: (1) LGBT; or (2) already supporters because they are, by definition, our pals. It can be preaching to the choir. While any effort to advance pro-gay thought is commendable, these Internet efforts will only achieve results if their messages are spread to large numbers of people outside our immediate circles. They will only bring about change if they “go beyond the gay.”

Perhaps because this was an election year, 2010 saw a marked rise in online LGBT campaigns. Some are obscure, some just amusing. On Facebook you’ll find “Boycott Urban Outfitters” (1,449 fans) and “Boycott eBay Antigay Agenda” (with only three fans, so there must not be much to protest). Some groups challenge artists, such as “Boycott the Gay Basher 50 Cent” (345 fans). There’s even a call to boycott the Twilight film franchise because Stephenie Meyer, author of the books that form the basis of the movies, is supposedly required by her Mormon religion to give 10% of her gross income to the church. Perhaps indicative of how powerful vampires (or maybe Taylor Lautner’s abs) can be, only 343 fans have arisen for that “Support Gay Rights: Boycott ‘Twilight’” page.

Once in a while, a campaign will stand out from the digital crowd. In 2010 this happened with the “Count Me Out” and “Wear Purple” initiatives. But they both stayed too much within the world of LGBTs and our allies to achieve greater impact.

“Count Me Out” appealed to our gay love of pretty colors. For National Coming Out Day on October 13, people were asked to colorize with rainbow hues their profile pictures on Facebook and other social media, and add the word “Out” or “Ally.” I did it and must admit, the colorized photos from my friends looked pretty darn cool. But I was left wondering — did anyone outside the LGBT community and our close chums really care? Or did we just enjoy feeling like an activist for a day?

I asked the same questions, though to a lesser degree, during the “Wear Purple” viral movement. Canadian teenager Brittany McMillan conceived the idea for an LGBT Spirit Day as a response to the high-profile suicides earlier this year of seven gay boys due to bullying — most notably the Tyler Clementi tragedy at Rutgers University. Using Tumblr, which provides a Twitter-like feed to the blogging world, Brittany encouraged everyone to wear purple on October 20. The idea spread like wildfire through Facebook, blogs, and other digital environments. But on October 20, the only people I saw wearing purple were either LGBT or already supportive straight allies. Admittedly, this was just personal observation from where I live in Los Angeles. I’m sure there were others across America sporting purple that day. I’m also betting “Wear Purple” had a greater social impact, especially in schools, than “Count Me Out.” However, this well-intended initiative spoke largely to people already predisposed to support gay rights.

To win full equality, we need straight people — and lots of them — on board. I was tickled pink to run across a Facebook group called “I Refuse to Get Married Until My Gay Friends Can.” But I was disheartened to see the group had only 930 members. We need viral campaigns that add many digits to that number.


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