It’s true. While I was in Chicago last week for a conference, I tried every morning to find a strong, yet tasty cup of coffee. I figured I wouldn’t find chicory, though there may have been some place in Chicago that I could have found online. But I was working, no time to search for what I have every single day. I’m not really a coffee-aficionado. But I drink it every morning. You hear there’s no coffee like New Orleans’ coffee, and I found out that’s the truth.
Once you get used to something, it’s awfully difficult to change, isn’t it? And sometimes we get so used to something, we take it for granted, not really appreciating it, or acknowledging it. Sort of like we don’t always fully appreciate people we care about, or even the gift of life. I’m afraid that we are collectively becoming so used to violence, outward hatred, and a growing culture of what might be called white supremacy, that more deaths will occur and nothing will be done. The ‘we’ in that sentence refers to you, to me, to our greater LGBTQ+ community.
As I gave the keynote speech to open the conference, I looked into the faces of members of the Association for Adult Development and Aging, a national division of the American Counseling Association. This group of dedicated professionals, faculty members, and graduate students were attentive, seemed engaged, and open to the references I made to the New Orleans LGBTQ community, my work with Ambush Magazine, NOAGE, and CrescentCare/NO AIDS Task Force. I have been with AADA for a long time, and have always felt comfortable with my identity and my emergent ‘outness’ as the years rolled by. As often happens at a conference when one self-identifies, there can be several folks waiting to speak with you. Two stood out, two young gay men who asked if they could speak with me privately.
I walked the two young men to the hotel terrace and we sat to chat. They said they had questions. I joked and replied I hoped I had answers. Those young men, graduate students in the profession of counseling, began to articulate what they wanted to discuss.
They had one question, and that was just what are we, the LGBTQ+ community, going to do to end the violence in this country. And when. When were we going to fight the violence, the government, people who preach hate, people who appear to be heartless?
I didn’t have an answer at first, because they were not asking a rhetorical question. They wanted to know, so they could join in, support and be a part of a movement. Their eyes were sad, voices angry and earnest. Then my own feelings began to surface, the sadness so many of us carry when the violence is highlighted, as in El Paso and Dayton shootings. All in one weekend, while we were at a conference talking about mental health and multicultural counseling, in a city often known for violence. And weak coffee. Outrageous, and I am outraged.
I stayed and discussed some possibilities with the two graduate students, some history and what they could research in their own communities, what the local needs might be and opportunities to be involved. But their questions are still in my head.
Do we in the LGBTQ+ community have a collective voice? When will we, can we and should we, use that voice?
The answers are WE DO have a collective voice; NOW is the time. For instance, financial means. Some people like to gloss over that there is money in the LGBTQ+ Community here and in many cities. We have that financial power (and if it isn’t your financial situation at this time, as it’s not really mine, understand it anyway). Politics and money count, they often coincide with influence and partisanship, and as elections approach, could make a difference. That is one way.
Another consideration is numbers. Of all the cities I know, New Orleans’ LGBTQ+ community is massive, with both very out individuals and others who may not be as vocal, but who do openly identify as a member of our community. Plus those who may not choose to be out, for their own reasons, but who could become involved in some quieter form of protest and support.
There is lots of people-power, right here, spanning the Gulf South region if we look at the areas Ambush covers. Change is accomplished by articulate and charismatic people as well as groups and organizations. The power in our community comes from influence. We are everywhere, and have supporters everywhere. Can we begin to use that to stop the negativity, the hateful language, the discrimination?
And the violence! It’s here in New Orleans, in our own community, and perhaps that’s a place to begin for some people, helping our own. For anyone new at the influence game, it starts very local and with your own family and friend-family, as well as people you do business with, people you buy food from, or who are on organizational Boards with you.
Have a house discussion where you invite 6-8 people to your home, or to a restaurant, to discuss how you can help, volunteer together, protest, or join a group already organized. If you’re more experienced at advocating, protesting, being a social justice ‘out supporter’, then let’s get busy.
We talk about the ACT UP movement years ago, with the mantra ACT UP, ACT OUT, STOP AIDS. We didn’t stop AIDS, but a change of epic proportion was made eventually. Do we need to ACT UP again, and stop the violence? Could this become a national drive where millions appear in the streets and insist that progress must be made to turn the hate around, that the violent and incendiary words and tweets must stop?
The very scary White House rhetoric the other day about cracking down on ‘mentally ill people’ and then institutionalizing them, is pure hate, once again, just different words. There are many things that must change with our mental health priorities in this country, but it’s vital to remember that all people who kill do not have a mental illness. Hate, fear, misunderstanding, greed and misplaced loyalties to outside forces (terrorism) are also factors. And guns. Aren’t guns, and the ability to so freely get guns, ammunition and the recipe for explosives at the heart of some of this? We do have some power over that, if we could band together.
Two recent statistics have rocked me. (A) While I was in Chicago, that city had over 58 murders over a two-day period. No mass shootings; just the number of people who died at the hand of another human being. (B) The tragedies in El Paso and Dayton increased the number of mass shootings in this country to 261 in the first 7 months of 2019. Some make headlines, others appear in the news a few times, get recorded, and we then don’t hear anything more about them.
The recorded numbers of these hateful, hurtful and violent mass killings live on, however, and compound our general fear. This fear is palpable. We can sense it with the return to school and the bulletproof backpacks on AMAZON and other links. Imagine yourself back in grade school, or even high school, and along with your books, pens, pads, you’re handed a bulletproof backpack. What’s next, a small handgun just in case? Mace, the kind police use, as some schools are asking parents to purchase?
So let’s come together and start, join or support a movement. Check Ambush often, Facebook for political organizing in New Orleans, HRC events, our local political events featuring open and forward-thinking candidates, and read. READ about what’s happening. The old sayings – ‘knowledge is power’; ‘know your enemy’; ‘be vigilant’ – are true. That’s why they’re still around. And be proud of who we are and what we can accomplish. Let’s ACT together, now.