Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
– Pastor Martin Niemoller
I first heard this on the Oscars one year, when Whoopi Goldberg recited it. I’ve always remembered it and with each passing year, I’ve grown to understand and appreciate it even more.
As a young closeted gay man growing up in Massachusetts, and living with a mom who had been very politically involved, I always felt the need to get involved. I went door-to-door in high school canvassing for Bill Clinton and Al Gore (as if they needed my help in the only state that didn’t vote for Nixon). And as time went on, I always wanted to get involved in anything progressive – whether it be fighting for my teachers who were getting laid-off or stuffing envelopes for local politicians. It was important to me from an early age that our country move in a direction that focuses on the citizenry.
Then as I became to know who I am, as I not only came out, but as I discovered the community I was truly a part of – these values became more important to me. And as a gay adult working in progressive politics, I’m increasingly concerned about our direction.
Trying to get gay men in New York interested in what’s going on politically is like teaching a pig to play the harmonica – it wastes your time and annoys the pig. And just last week we found out, according to the LGBT Movement Report, it seems that 96.5% of LGBT adults in the U.S. do not donate to LGBT organizations. It’s clear that we have some work to do. If we can’t even get gay people to donate to gay organizations, how do we win our equality? The answer is – through our allies. We need to do more work to engage our allies and make LGBT equality a larger focus of the progressive movement as a whole. How do we do that? My personal opinion is that it is not through more gay bar outreach.
I read a piece this evening by a young gay Egyptian man, explaining why he is a feminist. He writes from the heart and is living in a country where people have been put to death for being gay, but here he writes about his mother and why he is standing up for her:
“I remember the days when I woke up to find my father is practicing violence against my mother for stupid and shallow reasons , I remember her tears , pain and her fight to restore her pride back . many times she decided to leave the house , I was a child by that time nonetheless I always backed her decisions , I always hoped that she’d really leave the house and has her own separate life . every time she’d come back home one day after the fight for our sakes . I could see it in her eyes , the bitterness after losing the fight for her own dignity”
Reading this young man’s words reminded me of the strength we have when we support one another towards building a world that is truly a better place to live. We need to realize that our struggle is part of a much larger one. What good is having our rights, if we need gas masks to breathe the polluted air? What good are our rights if we are all unemployed and can’t afford the paper our marriage licenses will be printed on? Mind you, I’m not saying our rights should take a back seat or that our priorities should change, but perhaps our rights will come a little quicker if we are able to gather some friends in the fight.
As a movement, it is vital that we build stronger coalitions to achieve our goals. And in order to do that, we must find our allies and support them. We have to realize the strength there is in learning about and helping others who can help us achieve our goals. Those of you who want to get involved, by all means – get involved, but don’t let your commitment to LGBT equality exclude you from supporting our friends and allies we so desperately need. Stay involved – or get involved in LGBT equality causes, but realize that this fight will take more than just us.