Putting It Together in 2015

Like America, the LGBT community continues to create itself.

As we look to the year ahead, notice the concentration of enlarged egos among the political class. If you could bottle and sell their high opinion of themselves, you could be like the stereotypical occupant of a safe civil service job and never work another day in your life.

In our blinding brilliance, we sometimes size people up too quickly, like people in Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables who interpreted Hepzibah Pyncheon's scowl as "an expression of bitter anger and ill-will." In fact (or rather fiction), her scowl was "the innocent result of her near-sightedness." The author assures us that Hepzibah's heart "never frowned. It was naturally tender...." This inspired me as a young man to treat the scowls I encountered in my activism as expressions of tender-heartedness; I have been bathed in affection ever since. Being a change agent requires a thick skin and a willingness to see potential allies in unlikely places.

2015 promises continued fights against right-wing aggressions that include vagina policing and other gender-based discrimination; attacks on church-state separation; xenophobia; quackery disguised as science; biased profiling and excessive force by police; and criminalization of healthcare issues.

None of these will be resolved by the likely nationwide victory for marriage equality in the U.S. Supreme Court. Thus, in the words of Ella Baker, "We who believe in freedom cannot rest." Here are some thoughts for the work ahead.

Curb the language cops. We will win the marriage fight even if some use the misleading phrase "gay marriage." If people who are not belligerent use the wrong pronouns or otherwise display their ignorance, be like my amazingly patient transgender friends and politely clue them in. Creating change requires the politics of addition; we must always seek new ways to connect with people.

Angry declarations are no strategy. Patronizing potential allies and demanding adherence to your standards do not advance the conversation but undermine it. Any coalition that is not an echo chamber will include people who disagree on some things or otherwise piss you off. Progress requires difficult conversations; but haranguing the choir cannot change the minds or hearts of those who don't show up. Alliances are not zero-sum games where someone has to win and someone has to lose. True respect is reciprocal and is strengthened over time. There are no shortcuts: we have to do our homework and make our case.

"Look for the helpers," as Fred Rogers used to tell children in crisis. It is more productive to judge people not by appearance or affiliation but by statements and actions. There is none among us who doesn't need to listen. We learn to our benefit that it is not always about us.

The suicide of transgender teen Leelah Alcorn reminds us that violence includes mental abuse, and our help is needed to stop it. On her Tumblr blog, Alcorn exhorted us to combat trans suicides and their causes. Early responses have included a renewed focus on helplines and on efforts to ban conversion therapy for minors, as the D.C. Council did in December.

We don't have to be the same to give each other credit and respect. We don't have to be bossy to teach. Our differences challenge us, but also enrich us. The greatest gift I received in 2014 was getting to know some persecuted LGBT Ugandans. One of them, finding no organizational support, assembled his own underground railroad that included me and a lesbian couple in Germany. We are awed by his courage, resilience, and grace.

No one can support every worthy cause or perform every needed task. We need one another. As with our forebears in earlier movements, this leads to conflict and control issues. We wrestle amid unmet needs, unnecessary suffering, structural injustices, violence, fomenting of intolerance, coercion, and blindness to privilege. We struggle together step by step.

Local activists in my hometown of D.C. face a new mayor, our first elected attorney general, five new D.C. Council members out of thirteen, new committee chairs, new staff, and new agency heads. As usual, relationships are everything. That means approaching new officials and staff like any good advocate: you are there to help.

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Blade and Bay Windows.