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Saturday, 30 March 2013

7 Reasons I Disagree with Red Equality-Flag Critics

On Facebook I changed my profile picture to the red & pink equal sign, and I've been getting some flack for doing so. I have people telling me I'm only doing it because it's the trend, or 'groupthink' as a couple of people put it. I've had people criticize it because they think it's meaningless and doesn't help anyone or change anything - that it's armchair activism at its most useless. I've had people ask me if I don't have something better to do, or more 'worthy' causes to fight. Here are seven arguments I pose for my having done so, in response to their statements and questions.

1) I believe in marriage equality. I particularly don't believe religion has any place in legislation in any country that has legally defined freedom of religion. I believe if one person is allowed to get married, then all people should be allowed to get married (assuming the second person in the marriage is consenting to it, of course). I believe very strongly in equality on every level. Not just between genders and races and sexual orientations. I believe in animal rights, too. I believe every living creature has certain rights that come to them just by the mere fact of their existence on this planet.

2) I got the idea for my profile picture from George Takei. Most of you will know who he is, but I'll expound upon the subject for the ones who might not. He played Sulu in Star Trek (The Original Series). He came out many years ago, and has been married to his husband, Brad, for some time. I "like" his page on Facebook, because he's a damn funny guy who posts really funny things. The original equality symbol on Mr. Takei's page was with the blue background and the yellow equal sign. He had provided a link to the Human Rights page that originally provided it, and has been using it for some time. However, they had a new symbol up - one that no one else was using just yet. Theirs was red with the pink equal sign. Why the change? For love of course. The debates on marriage equality all come down to love.

3) Despite constant criticism from people, I have refused to change my profile picture to suit them. If I were of a 'groupthink' mentality I wouldn't have changed my profile picture in the first place, and I would have caved to the pressure to change it back by now. I have been an outspoken supporter for gay rights since I was sixteen years old. I'm now forty-one. If you can't do the math, let me help you - that's twenty-five years that I've been supporting the LGBT community, which is long before there ever was an official LGBT community to support. (At least in my neck of the woods there wasn't.) I went against every single person in my life, based on my beliefs that everyone is equal. Family, friends, you name it. I didn't follow the crowd, I bucked it. I'll be damned if I'll let anyone say I'm some damn sheep when I think of all the years I stood up for people and had no one around to stand up with me.

4) I strongly believe that LGBT people need to see support in the community, whether it's on Facebook or IRL (in real life). How many suicides does it take for people to reach out and say, "I'm with you. There's nothing wrong with you. There's nothing wrong with you wanting to marry the person you love." I've read countless 'thank-you' messages from the LGBT community, going out to the public, for their support. You can't tell me that changing the profile picture didn't do anything for them. When you're feeling depressed and think that no one cares about your situation, what does it do for you to see that someone is there for you and supports you? When you feel hopeless, like nothing will ever change, how does it feel to know that there are millions of people lining up to say, "That's not true at all. We're here for you."

5) Armchair activism gets a bad rap, because a lot of things that people do from the comfort of their own homes amounts to nothing. They have zero impact and only do it because it makes them feel good about themselves to proudly proclaim they wore a certain colour that day 'in support' of something, or whatever it was they happened to do. So, yes, I can understand why some people would feel that changing a profile picture amounts to about the same thing. However, there is actually plenty that is real and tangible that can be done from an armchair, provided you have a computer in front of you and the brains to look for alternative means to help. In my case there's a fair bit that I do from the comfort of my armchair. Things that anyone could do, and that would make a big impact if more people were actually doing them:
  • Writing articles. This I do for a wide variety of sites and e-zines now. I write about causes I believe in, and since I've had literally thousands of readers of my work, that means I've had thousands of opportunities to create awareness in others.
  • Signing petitions. There are a few websites that host official petitions that get sent to the appropriate places. Change.org is one of them, but there are others. In most cases it doesn't matter what country you're from. A lot of the issues are worldwide, and they need you to sign.
  • Donating money. Any idiot can create a PayPal account and donate money to the causes they believe in. I've been doing it for years.
  • Engaging people in conversation. Again, something anyone should be able to do, particularly with the buffer of the internet. There is much less fear when it comes to engaging total strangers in conversation. I've used the internet to educate people on everything from LGBT rights to feminism to proper cat nutrition and proper ferret care. I'm not just talking about doing it through articles or on my blog. I'm talking about one-on-one conversations on Facebook or Twitter, or e-mailing.
  • Running an online business. Until I became too disabled to work long hours, this is something that I was doing. I used my business for the good of the community in multiple ways. I used pages on my website to promote awareness, I linked to other websites that were helping, I sold products that were safe and beneficial, I donated profits in both Canada and the United States, and I made my products available to charitable organizations at cost so that they could sell the items themselves and reap the financial benefits directly for their organizations. I spoke with literally hundreds of people all over the world, organizing them to manufacture and distribute these same products.
  • Running an online charitable organization. All of the above, except being registered as a charity or non-profit. I didn't bother registering. All of my profits were going to charity, so I already had all the tax breaks. Part of that has to do with being in Canada and the way our tax system works. If you believe in something, though, there are ways of making it work both ways. For me it was easier to operate as a business and have full control over what was going on. In Canada you need other people overseeing a charity or non-profit, and I didn't need other hands dipping into the till. As far as I was concerned it would only complicate things and possibly result in less money going to charity.
  • Doing online volunteer work, which can include anything from designing logos for non-profits to printing flyers and writing brochures.
  • Researching and learning about your causes. The more you know about them, the better you'll be able to pass that information on to others, and the better you'll be able to stand up to the people that might disagree with you. Arm yourself with facts and realism, not supposition. If none of your arguments are based on reality, you'll only be doing your cause more harm than good.
  • Sharing your personal experiences with others so that they don't feel alone.
  • Talking to someone who might be depressed or suicidal.
6) Are there more urgent things that need attention? Possibly. Here's what I think regarding my own participation, however. Activism is a responsibility. Activism takes work and honesty. If I can't participate in a cause with full knowledge (or at least what I believe to be full knowledge) I don't think it's responsible of me to do so. Someone I have become acquainted with recently is very emotionally invested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and has ancestral roots in Palestine. Now, as much as I might feel Palestinians are being very badly mistreated, and that what is going on there is something of a horror show, that's an opinion that is based on an absolute minimum of information. Basically, I don't know what the hell I'm talking about, in other words. I don't like talking when I know nothing about the subject matter. In order to become active in such an important fight, I would need to become much more aware of everything that's going on there. My personal thoughts don't mean a hell of a lot if they're not based on facts.

7) I consider LGBT marriage inequality to be something akin to a gateway crime when it comes to human rights. If these rights are not fought for, we open ourselves up to losing other rights. Women are still fighting against sexism, and new bills are being introduced every day to gain control over women. If it's okay to subjugate LGBT people, and it's okay to subjugate women, we've lost major ground for human rights. Minority races are still fighting for equality, too. When is it okay to cede ground on these issues? When is it safe to do so? I don't think it's ever safe. What's happening with Israelis and Palestinians, from my limited understanding of the situation, is very much the same fight. Human rights are being trampled on. People are dying. People in the LGBT community are dying. Women are dying. Minorities are dying. Palestinians and Israelis are dying. All because human rights are not being respected.

You're not being asked to change your profile picture on Facebook if you don't want to - just don't criticize me for changing mine. Nobody is telling anyone that they have to believe in gay marriage for themselves. No one is forcing a woman to marry another woman, or a man to marry another man. The debate is about "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Remember those words? You should. They're part of the United States Declaration of Independence. Even here in Canada we know those words and what they mean.