Sunday, February 19, 2017

Care and Feeding of an Activist Soul #bethechange #LGBTQ

In this final installment of the activism series, we'll talk about keeping your head in a world that's gone crazy.

It's no secret that fighting for change is a tough job.

Real activism goes beyond signing online petitions and sharing stories on Facebook. It's an arduous battle against ignorance and stagnation that can take decades to win. For some issues, a lifetime. That's a long time to stay plugged in, monitoring emails and headlines, attending non-profit meetings and conferences, looking for new ways to get the attention of an often apathetic public.

It's no wonder depression and burnout are so common in the activist community!

If you're new to activism (or even if you aren't) here are three simple tips for managing the frustration, depression, and anger that often come with the job.

Cardio is your friend. I can testify that a good workout is a great way to manage stress and burn off frustration. My daily cardio habit plays a huge role in maintaining my sanity. Without it, all the emotion gets tangled up inside and my temper redlines. (It's not great for my blood pressure either!) Walk, bike, run, kickbox, or bounce around the house to your favorite songs. Whatever gets your blood moving!

Stockpile happiness. For me, this goes hand-in-hand with cardio. I have a playlist of happy songs and fight songs that I listen to every day, brightening my mood while I'm burning off negativity. It's a chance to readjust my perspective and remember why I'm fighting.

When that isn't enough, I have a backup playlist of funny videos on YouTube, things guaranteed to make me smile if not outright laugh.

Self-care is as important as fighting for the cause. Without it, you won't last long before burnout or depression cripples you. Find things that make you happy and regularly inject them into your schedule. 

Take breaks. Equality is a lengthy battle. It always has been. Even before POTUS, the numbers were bad. 90% of LGBTQ kids report being bullied and harassed at school. The percentage of LGBTQs among the population of homeless youth is now up to 40%, twice what it was just a few years ago. We have a tremendous amount of work to do so pace yourself! 

When you start to get that hopeless, frustrated sensation that says you're about to smack face first into burnout, take a break. Give yourself a vacation from headlines, meetings, and social media and focus on something else. Hang out with your squad. Freebase things on Netflix. Lie in the sun and read a book. Whatever makes you happy and come back to the front lines recharged and ready to go. 

Take care of yourself, stay strong, and I'll see you in the trenches!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Activism v. Bullying: Where's the line? #bethechange #LGBTQ

Have you noticed it's increasingly difficult to tell the online activists from the bullies? People on both sides of every issue are screaming and hurling threats, driven by anger and a sense of injustice. The result is a massive stinging swarm.

The reason it's hard to tell the difference is because that's not activism. 

That swarm is a side effect of the tug-o'-war between progress and the comforting illusion of 'the good old days.' Every time something like this happens (at least once a generation), you get riots and death threats and screeching, leading to a backlash of counter riots and death threats and screeching. The problem is, none of that creates change and change is what activism is about.

For those of you just getting started, I'd like to offer a few simple tips to help you identify the line where advocating for a better world becomes a pointless tantrum.

Keep it positive. You're fighting for a cause, whatever that might be. The moment your focus shifts from standing up for something to standing against the other guy, you're over the line. 

POTUS is a divisive character. You either agree with his opinions, or you loathe him. For a few weeks, there was a patch of middle ground inhabited by those who wanted to see if an actual human being emerged from under the hateful campaign rhetoric. To no one's surprise, it didn't. Hair dye and a dozen different kinds of ignorance. That's all there is to this guy.

It can be tempting to turn your passion for a cause into an anti-POTUS campaign, but the minute you do, your crusade mutates into something ugly. Follow that a few steps down the path, and you end up with a life devoted to hatred. We can all name several groups like that and, let's be honest. That's not much of a life.

Focus on what you're fighting FOR not who you're fighting against.

That brings us to the second point...

Don't make it personal. There's a difference between calling out the new administration on their lies and harmful policies and engaging in an online cat fight. POTUS is a perfect example. His Twitter feed is a non-stop display of what you don't want to do. Name calling isn't activism and engaging in that kind of behavior ruins your credibility as a serious activist. 

Read some of the statements coming from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the ACLU. That's activism! They're as pissed as we are, but they stick to the issue. They make rational, factual statements. Meanwhile, POTUS' camp counters with sniveling and name calling. Who looks more credible when the conversation ends?

That brings me to the final and most important concept...   

Be aware of the consequences. Not everyone will brush off what you say during a rant as inconsequential. Especially when your comments are directed at a public figure. Libel is a real thing (as several people have discovered over the past few years). When you call someone a bigot or homophobe online, you'd better have evidence to back it up. Otherwise, you could be looking at a defamation lawsuit. It happens. Ask Frank Ocean! It may sound silly, but there's nothing laughable about the legal fees it will take to defend yourself.

It's not always easy to keep your cool as an activist. I've lost it more than once. You will, too, but over time you'll learn to recognize that point where the only thing you have left is angry rants. When you reach it, that's the signal to log off and cool off.

Stay tuned for next week's post on what to do when you end up sliding into a meltdown, or worse, burnout.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Want to Be an Activist? #LGBTQ #bethechange

Last week I promised you a blog post about plugging into the activist network, and here it is!

What Is Activism?

Let's talk about what activism is and what it isn't. In the case of the LGBTQ+ community, the ultimate goal is to educate the public and create legislation that secures rights we don't yet have or protects the ones we do. Activists stand on the front line, representing the cause.

We want to get people on our side. Protests are one way to gain attention. So is speaking out against injustice. Bullying isn't. I'll talk about this more next week, but for now, it's enough to say trolling the online trolls and hating on the haters doesn't help the cause. An online platform of name-calling and threats isn't activism. It's pointless harassment.

How Do You Do It?

As members of the LGBTQ+ community, activism is our heritage. People have been fighting for our rights for decades. As a result, we already have a large network of non-profit organizations in place. Getting involved is as easy as picking your passion and contacting one of those organizations.

I talked last week about focusing your passion. Here is why that's important. The current regime is attacking the LGBTQ+ community from multiple angles. Women's rights. Immigration rights. POC rights. Trans rights. Healthcare. We're affected by all of that so if you decide to stand against everything that touches us, prepare to be inundated. 

A tight focus also means you can block out half the online screaming and ranting without missing something important.

My advice is to start small. Basic LGBTQ+ rights involve fighting 'religious freedom' bills, reparative therapy, marriage equality (still unsettled in several states), adoption rights, making schools safe for our kids, and employment rights. (It's legal in 13 states to fire someone for being LGBTQ+). Even that much should keep us busy because all of those are on the current administration's docket. 

Your focus may shift over time, and that's okay. I didn't start out as an LGBTQ+ activist. My journey began with homeless and abused kids. Years later, here I am.

Start by signing up for alerts from your favorite LGBTQ+ organization. Send them an email and let them know you want to volunteer. Most of them have numerous events during the year and are always looking for people to hang out at their booths and hand out literature, gather petition signatures, etc. It's a great way to meet others who share your passion.

What if I live in the middle of nowhere?

Rural communities can make activism challenging. At the same time, it provides great opportunities. Many organizations are looking to expand their footprint this year. Contact your preferred non-profit and ask if they need volunteers in your area. You might be surprised by the response!

At the very least, you can use their email alerts to contact politicians about major legislation. Don't worry if you're in a state that doesn't support equality. Many federal bills have to pass through a committee before they go anywhere else for a vote. You can voice your opinion with the committee members regardless of your state of residence.

Above all else, stay connected! Breaks are important (I'll take about that in part four), but so is knowing what's happening with our rights. As POTUS demonstrated last week, things can happen fast. Being plugged in means the difference between helping to block a dangerous bill and being left behind to complain about it when it's too late to do anything but bitch on Facebook.

Here's a list of some of the largest LGBTQ+ non-profits in the US. Feel free to do a search for your state to see what else is available.

Do you have questions I didn't answer? Leave them in the comments below.

Next week - Bullying versus activism: where to draw the line.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Baby Steps Reboot - Fixing A Messy World #bethechange #LGBT

As most of you know, I'm a vocal, bossy, and sometimes obstinate LGBT rights activist. 

A couple of years ago I did a series on how to change the world in five easy steps. In light of the new era, I think it's time for a reboot! 20+ years as a grassroots activist has taught me a few things I'm happy to pass on to a new generation. One so hurt and pissed off they're drowning in frustration.

Women's March on Washington via photopin (license)

For Millennials, this is the first taste of a rogue government in the States. One that doesn't represent the people and displays no desire to do so. I'm hearing the same things I felt during my first trip on this hellish roller coaster.

I can't take how horrible this feels. 
I need to do something but don't know where to start.
How do I deal with all this ugliness?

It's time to do more than self-medicate that churning puddle of frustration sloshing back and forth between irritation and rage, eating a hole in your stomach. As a member of the LGBT community, protests and demonstrations are part of your heritage. I mean, come on. Who hasn't heard of Pride? It might look like a tribute to spring break, but it's the grandchild of a movement of people who were as frustrated as you are now, marching through the streets, demanding to be recognized and respected.

It's time to get back to our roots, people! 

Let's start with step one:

Focus your passion

The most important thing I've learned as an activist is to maintain a narrow focus. Whichever issue you choose to make your own, you have to become an expert on the subject. You can talk out of your ass if you want, but when the other side starts doing the same thing you'll have a hard time refuting the nonsense unless you know the facts. Personal experience is one piece. Understanding the issues facing the rest of the LGBT community is the other. 

Not everyone has had your history or shared your pitfalls. Some had it worse. Some had it better. Many continue to struggle. You have to be able to speak to the issues of the general population of LGBTs. If you expand that focus to include women's rights, POC issues, immigration, etc., you'll need to be an expert on all of it. Unless you intend to sacrifice your social life (not a good idea) and annoy everyone by being unable to discuss anything but your chosen issues (an even worse idea) it's better to maintain a tighter focus. 

Pick one issue. The one that breaks your heart the most, and concentrate on that. We'll get into why that's important in the next part of the series, but for now, trust me. If you take on too much, you'll drown. This will be a relentless four years. Limit yourself to what you can shoulder for at least that long. 

Don't worry that choosing one leaves out so many others. You're not in this alone. There are millions of activists worldwide, each with their own passion for a cause. Nothing will end up ignored.

It's damn frustrating when so much is wrong, but you can't do everything. You're only one person, and unless you have celebrity status or a friend with a public platform, your opportunities to help will be small. So will everyone else's. That's how grassroots activism works. Pissed off people with small circles of influence combine their efforts into something bigger -- say a throng of thousands that brought JFK Airport to a standstill over the Muslim ban.

You can help change things. 

We all can. 

We have to because the other option leaves too many vulnerable people at the mercy of a cold and heartless administration. 

Check back next week for part two - plugging into the activist network.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Morning-After #Giveaway!

Friday was a grand, depressing display in the US.
What we need right now is a a bit of eager anticipation to smother the foreboding.

Welcome to the Morning-After Giveaway!

In celebration of the ginormous catalog of fiction we can use to escape reality for a few hours, I'm giving away a free ebook to five lucky winners! Here are the deets:

* The contest is open to international entrants *
* Each winner will be awarded one ebook *
* The winners can choose any of my titles as their prize *


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, November 11, 2016

There's Still Room for Hope #LGBTQ #election

Friday morning I read a statement by the Trans Lifeline, a suicide hotline tailored to the unique needs of transgender people. The day after the election, 8 transgender people killed themselves and several others were hospitalized for unsuccessful attempts.

It broke my heart to learn the most vulnerable section of our Rainbow Community is in crisis. Every day we lose another life. Why? Because the press is predicting Armageddon and headlines are scary as shit right now.

I've had the same I-don't-want-to-live-on-this-planet-anymore sensation as everyone else this week, but I think in our rush to get past the awful foreboding to a real scenario, we're making too many assumptions and forgetting a few key truths.

Truth 1: You can't trust the press, a fact they've demonstrated consistently for at least a decade now. Accuracy doesn't matter. They print whatever gets the most clicks even if they have to outright lie. Let's face it, fear sells even better than sex. 

The stories they're telling are pure speculation based on nothing but conjecture and assumption.

Yes, the haters are out in full force because they think the election results mean hatred is now fashionable. That's not true. The new President-Elect won because of the Electoral College, not because a majority of Americans agree with his racist, divisive evidenced by the tens of thousands of protestors still in the streets days later. Clinton won the popular vote and when everything is tallied, they expect her to be somewhere around a million votes ahead. 

As usual, the haters are ill-informed.

Truth 2: Just because we're putting Toilet Paper (Trump/Pence = TP = toilet paper) in the White House doesn't mean the rest is guaranteed. Neither of these men have any experience on The Hill and there is no proof they are widely respected in D.C. There is, however, overwhelming proof one of them is widely loathed. 

Congress has spent the last eight years proving they can be childish and petty. It's difficult to predict what that snotty attitude will mean when Toilet Paper starts trying to push bills through. It wouldn't be the first time Congress decided to block something they secretly agree with just to be spiteful.

Truth 3: We have built an incredible movement over the last several years. Not just here, but internationally. Our push for equality started a wave that has washed over every continent, empowering millions. We even gained the official and enthusiastic backing of the United Nations.

We're not in this alone. We have allies and activists all over the world fighting with us. 

Yes, this is a slap in the face and yes, holding our ground may be a struggle, but it's not impossible. I've read the requests for the new administration to roll back our federal rights. While that may happen, it doesn't mean we all go back in the closet. It means the fight reverts to each individual state. That's not a tragedy. Dozens of pro-LGBT organizations are already in the midst of that battle.

Take heart, my Rainbow peeps! Don't let the stories of an anti-LGBT apocalypse scare you. So far, they're only stories. When the real version hits, we'll tackle it one obstacle at a time, the way we always have.

The Toilet Paper era is temporary. Our fight for equality isn't.

I'm sharing this video again because I'm in love with it! And because I think we need the reminder. 

We're not alone. 

Together we can do this.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

America's Brexit - Now What? #election #LGBTQ

If you're feeling a bit panicky today, you're not alone. So many Americans freaked out last night over the election results, the US crashed Canada's immigration website. No, I'm not kidding. (Sorry, Canada. We're having a moment.)

We're about to put two men in the White House who stand firmly and proudly against every minority in the country. One of whom made cyber bullying his official campaign platform. The other turned his home state into a haven for homophobes. I imagine a lot of people are standing around with a knot in their stomach wondering what the hell we do now.

I have a suggestion.

Get involved.

A lifetime of personal catastrophes have taught me not to dwell on the wreckage, but to gather my resolve and move forward. That's what we have to do. It doesn't matter who's to blame for this dark moment in history. What matters is how we respond to it and I'm with HRC President Chad Griffin when he said "[we] will continue our fight for equality and justice for all with greater urgency and determination than ever before. We must. Lives literally depend on it."

We need to be prepared to meet whatever challenges are coming, which means there's no time for wallowing. Every day counts. 

If you're not plugged into an LGBTQ organization, now is a great time to do so. Volunteers don't need any special qualifications beyond a determination to see people's rights protected. If you're not in a position or location that makes it possible to donate time, donating money is a great thing to add to your list of New Year's resolutions.

This election means some things will change. Probably for the worse. It might force us to live our truth a little louder. A little prouder. A little more determinedly, but we will get through this together. Thankfully, we have a lot of people in LGBTQ history to use as inspiration. They didn't give up. Even when things looked hopeless. Neither will we.