At some point in each of our lives we “drank the Kool-aid.” Some charismatic leader, organization, religion, political party, politician and/or movement has had a message that resonated so deeply with our core beliefs that we jump on the bandwagon believing we are finally on the right track to get us to our promised “ideal” land, our nirvana.
It’s like a torrid love affair. We can see only the good, the promise. If there are some shortcomings, we honestly believe that now that our piece has been added to the puzzle, the picture will become complete and all that we hope for follows. We recruit our friends, spread the “gospel”, devote hours of volunteer time and of course give our money to the cause.
Inevitably, like most torrid affairs, things cool down, passions change. Sometimes our involvement becomes less active, even to the point where our activism consists solely of writing a check once a year. Other times the break is permanent. If amicable we just go away. Our taste for the lime Kool-Aid just switches to the grape Kool-Aid and we take our time, talents and tithes to a new passion.
Sometimes the break is not amicable. New leadership, a controversial decision or political stance is so diametrically opposed to our core belief that the sweet taste of the Kool-Aid seems transformed to bitter colored water. All the passion, commitment and belief feels betrayed. Those shortcomings that we believed our involvement would heal become vast chasms of irreparable differences. We leave angry, bitter, and inconsolable. Our previous support turns to vocal opposition. Sadly in the ensuing chaos the proverbial baby too often gets thrown out with the bath water.
I have not talked directly about my relationship with the Human Rights Campaign Board of Governors since the ENDA controversy began. My resignation from the HRC Board of Governors was not a protest but a conscious decision. You see long ago I learned that all Kool-Aid is just colored water. What gives it the sweetness, the strength, the potential is me, my participation, my passion not the other way around.
So for the most part I have not joined in the litany of admonitions against HRC’s actions regarding our transgender community. I have just stood with my Trans Brother and Sisters in solidarity. Giving this much attention and power to any organization is dangerous. They can only speak for all of us if we abdicate our responsibility, our voice to make a difference, our commitment to full equality, and our belief in one beloved community.
I still believe in HRC’s Religion Project, HBCU program, Corporate Equality Index, Gospel and Soul and other great programs that work at a grass roots level to combat homophobia, empower our LGBT community, build bridges with allies and fight for civil rights for all Americans. I choose not to co-sign or endorse policies and decisions that contradict my core beliefs by remaining on the board in a quasi-leadership position in the organization.
The Human Rights Campaign does what it does well but ultimately we are responsible for our own destiny.
I only know one Patti Smith song but that song has been not just a personal anthem but a constant reminder – “The People have the Power”. So in October when I had the opportunity to speak with one of our State Senators I told them how I felt as an individual, and constituent about the importance of Transgender inclusion in ENDA. In November when I had the opportunity to impact the decision making process of my community I voted. On Transgender Day of Remembrance I made sure I was there to not just mourn the loss but celebrate the lives of my transgender sister and brothers. Last week I sat with Michigan women – Black, White, Gay, and Straight – to revitalize the work of women against AIDS in our community. Life is not a spectator sport. I remind myself of that each and everyday. I’m no Mother Teresa or Super Woman but I “have the Power.” We all do! And nothing or no one can take it away from us unless we let them.
So I’m taking the spotlight off of HRC and its misstep with ENDA. Instead I’m putting it right where it belongs – on us, our community and our power.
HIV/AIDS is still rampant in our community at large, not just the LGBT community. Cases continue to rise among the poor, women and youth who sadly are not as well informed as the LGBT community. One in every four youth entering the Ruth Ellis Center is HIV positive, yet its funding has been cut.
Millions of Americans have no health insurance or are underinsured. Their national healthcare is the emergency room. The gap between the haves and the have nots is wider than ever. You don’t have to go to a third world country to see poverty, it lives under expressway ramps, in abandoned building and crowding shelters in cities across America.
Our environment, our earth is under attack from global warming, urban sprawl and pollution. With all of our scientific and medical advances globally, many residents of third world countries have a life expectancy of under thirty years.
Violence against, women, transgenders, gays and lesbians continues globally. There is still no protection for members of the LGBT community from work place discrimination and hate crimes.
And amidst all these crises, dilemmas and strifes we are in the midst of the selection of the next president of this country – An election that could have the first woman or African American as a presidential candidate. If you listen to the debates – both Republican and Democratic – you often end up with more questions than answers. We have made tremendous strides towards equality but there is still a long, long way to go.
So let’s not abdicate our individual power and responsibility to anyone. When you drink the KOOL-aid remember it’s just colored water, you give it life, strength. Take it, shape it, and flavor it with your passion, your commitment, your participation.
“The power to dream, to rule, to wrestle the world from fools…The people have the power” (Patti Smith). YOU have the power! What are YOU going to do with it?