Friday, January 24, 2014

End of the Rainbow

It's a difficult thing to be a young activist. They don't have the thick skin that comes from decades of harsh words and verbal abuse by strangers. They don't have the ability to detach from the ugliness and see it for what it is: the ignorant, arrogant ranting of people who are talking about something they don't understand. 

Isa Shakhmarli is one such activist from Azerbaijan. It's a place much like sections of the US where the laws are at least a decade ahead of popular opinion. Gay isn't illegal but it's against the country's religious roots. Sound familiar?

Translation: God loves all the way he created them 

On Wednesday, Isa announced he no longer wanted to live in a world full of bigots. He posted his defeat on Facebook, tied a rainbow flag around his neck and hanged himself.

According to one friend, Isa was fighting a battle on two fronts. He fought for respect in his country and respect from his family. His final message speaks to something larger than family issues and there's no telling what set him off but I can sympathize with the sentiment. I know most of you can, too. It's that moment where something inside says "enough of this shit", throws its hands in the air and collapses in a heap on the floor. 

It's difficult being gay in today's world. Being an activist makes it worse. Stories of violence and intolerance abound and in order to fight for the good you spend a lot of time studying the bad. Sometimes the most positive story you read all day is about a public figure who thinks so little of their friends they make a habit of calling them "friend" with one side of their face and campaigning for their death with the other. It can make it hard to get through the day and when you don't have the perspective that comes with age it can seem even worse.

Over time, you learn these bigots aren't really talking about us. They're talking in stereotypes and generalities judging us based on "expert" testimony of heterosexuals. They lean heavily on "insider" stories told by people who spent a summer living the gay party scene and decided that was all there was to the fictitious "lifestyle" before running off to be "cured". If you believe the headlines, the LGBT Nation has less chance of achieving true equality than your average vacuous celebrity has of walking away from their wealth, shaving their head and joining a monastery. We can marry and raise kids but we'll still be second class citizens. When you develop tough enough skin and an appreciation for sarcasm, you can see the humor in it, twisted though it may be. If it weren't for my ability to laugh at people who have the balls to assume their opinion of my life is relevant I'd be in the same position as Isa but it takes a while to reach that place.  

My heart goes out to Isa's friends and the remaining members of Azerbaijan Free LGBT who have suffered a terrible blow. It also goes out to his family who might have wanted him to "turn" straight without having any idea what they were really asking. It wouldn't be the first time someone realized their religion had led them astray only after it was too late to prevent a tragedy. They might not have understood that "sin" and sexuality have nothing in common. I hope this will lead them to step away from dogma and consider an alternate point of view. 

I have no sympathy for the strangers who beat Isa down without caring that the person on the other end of their tirade was a human being with a fragile heart. I know what some of them will say to the news and I won't bother repeating it but for the few who feel to twinge of guilt...good. Swim in that sensation for a while and remember it the next time you post something hateful and ugly to someone you've never met. Some people take your hatred to heart...people like Isa.

Rest in peace, kiddo. Your voice will be missed.

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