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.