by Jessica Carreras
YPSILANTI – Each year during tax season, many people are told that instead of a hefty return, they didn’t pay enough and actually owe the government money. Reluctantly, they pay it or else face fines, pay deductions or possible jail time. But for 20-year-old Austin Michael Tracy, owing back taxes posed a different possibility: achieving LGBT equality.
Less than a year ago, the Eastern Michigan University theater major was a victim of a hate crime at a college party. After being grabbed by the neck, thrown out the door and called anti-gay names, the politically inactive student knew he had to start to stand up for himself. Not by beefing up at the gym in preparation for a fist fight, but by preparing for an even larger battle that includes repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act, as well as passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Tracy used YouTube to post a video documenting his civil disobedience against the federal government. They told him he owed over $300 in back taxes, and he announced that he was instead donating the money to LGBT charities, including the Trevor Project, the Matthew Shepherd Foundation and Equality Across America. Now, he’s ready to take the consequences until he’s treated like an equal citizen.
“There’s an issue, and it’s inequality,” Tracy says in his video. “I realized that until the LGBTQ community is recognized as equal citizens, this hate will continue.”
Tracy’s no newbie to LGBT activism. He attended the National Equality March in Washington, D.C., last October, and then the Midwest Unite + Fight Midwest Conference last month in Chicago. It was there that he heard Lt. Dan Choi speak “about us fighting for a cause, not just saying that we’re going to do something,” Tracy recalls. “It really inspired me.”
Three days later, Choi chained himself to the White House fence for the first of two times; the second action took place April 20. Both times, Choi was arrested while calling for an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
For Tracy, it turned his small flame of desire to fight into a full-fledged inferno.
When he received notice of his back taxes owed, the idea to donate the funds came easily. But deciding to stick to it was tough. “It started as just a Facebook status, saying, ‘Dear Obama, if I’m not an equal citizen, why should I pay taxes to a government that doesn’t want to give me rights?'” Tracy explains.
“It’s something I battled for a good two weeks – all the consequences and all the benefits that could possibly come from it, and I ended up deciding that this is what I wanted to do.”
In the video, Tracy calls for an end to DOMA and DADT, plus equal treatment and protection in the workplace. Neither partnered nor in the military, the choice to call for those rights seemed odd to some, Tracy said. But it made perfect sense to him.
“For the longest time, I felt that these weren’t my issues – that because it doesn’t directly affect me, it’s not my issue,” he says. “But it took until I got attacked, then I realized that they are my issues, because until we reach equality on all levels, people are going to continue to have that hate.”
Most responses to his announcement have been supportive, but Tracy has already begun to encounter that hate in cyberspace, with YouTube posters using anti-gay slurs and warning him that he will be reported to the IRS.
Tracy says he is ready to accept the consequences, and plans to continue his civil disobedience by donating more money from his 2010 taxes.
Tracy said he knows it’s unlikely that his actions will be the push that causes Congress and the White House to cave on LGBT equality, but that if he can inspire others, his mission will be accomplished.
“So many of today’s youth don’t know that they can take action. They want to make change, but they don’t realize that they can stand up and do something,” he says. “I look at people like Abbie Hoffman and all sorts of people who really believed in something and stood up for it, and they may have gone to prison for a time, but their efforts didn’t go in vain whether small or large.”
And facing fines and charges, Tracy adds, is no worse than the shackles of inequality. “If nobody else is going to stand up for my rights, I need to,” he insists. “I’m not a free citizen, and not until I reach full equality will I be one. So if they decide to put me in chains, I know at least I tried, and I’m going to continue to try until I reach that point.
“I’m scared, but I completely accept the consequences.”