By Penny Gardner
The question posed to me by Between The Lines was, “What is near and dear to my activism in the lesbian women, gay men, transgender and bisexual women and men’s movement?” Depending on timing frames my answer. As a younger feminist, my focus was inclusion of lesbians in the women’s movement; on reproductive freedom for all women; and on electing women to office.
At age fifty-three I came out and moved to Lansing to attend Michigan State University to become more intellectual in my social justice activism. Today as a 71-year-old womyn, a lesbian and still a diehard feminist, I advocate for our communities of LGBT people, who are old; I advocate that their lives be brought to light within our caregiving, policy making, and governmental institutions. That we as old LGBT women and men be protected, honored, and treated with compassion and care throughout our lifetimes, including the end of life. That those of us who are isolated, alone, and living in fear, be sought out, included, and be offered genuinely the care they need and are afraid to seek out.
I fight for those of us who are not so fearful and seek assisted living, rehabilitative care for our loved ones or for ourselves, to not be faced with forms to be filled out that ask us if we are married, divorced, single, widowed, etc. all only pertinent to heterosexual people. That we, who are LGBT, be spared pictures of happy opposite-sex couples in golf carts posted on the walls, printed in brochures, and repeated and repeated endlessly wherever! I read it as code for “don’t darken our doors if you are other than heterosexual, rich, white, and happy!” For goodness sakes. (I cleaned that last up for publication!)
I implore agencies, caregivers, other support systems, that they over and over again, required for all staff, provide opportunities to overcome personal difficulties an individual might have for anyone other than their clones, through formal and informal trainings and support groups.
In informal, close to formal information sessions I have offered and provided to various Area Agencies on Aging and other old people service agencies, I start with what seems the easiest. Change forms, remove the dratted pictures, provide diversity welcoming clues, touching on the tried and true methods followed by other minority populations who have fought for and begun receiving equitable conditions. I do not take lightly though the seemingly shallowness of a form, a picture, language, welcoming practices though, and do not do so here. It is only but a start.
My lifelong passion is for my active and informed involvement in the fight for a society free from discrimination, dedicated to equal rights under the law for all peoples in our country, and the power being in the hands of the people. Activism sustains me. It enrages me. It fulfills me. It costs me. It feeds me. It keeps me alive and provides me with strength and value. Engaged citizenship is another word for activism. And at the risk of being banal, it is in engaged citizenship, activism, from which I have been afforded more opportunities of value to me personally, professionally, publically, then any costs that I might have incurred, be it monetary, time, personal sacrifice, etc.
When I first began responding to Susan Horowitz’ request to write my passion, I began in a celebratory manner. We had just elected a president who supported our right to legally marry. A first! We passed in three states, freedom to marry statutes and in a fourth state we voted down an anti-freedom to marry constitutional amendment. I was happy, engaged, and passionate.
But then, a young man wielding a semi-automatic gunned down 20 kindergartner girls and boys and their teachers and administrators in Connecticut. Any celebration seemed distant, not pertinent. I was lost.
We as a people have been witness to so much gun violence – perpetrated by us, against us and against others – and yet we remain cowed by the NRA. Guns have never been my battle. I have stuck to my world of people discriminated against. Are we as peace-loving people being discriminated against by those who support the absolute freedom of carrying a deadly weapon?
I would be dishonest if I didn’t include in this narrative, my seemingly reactionary passion to restrict gun ownership in this land. Protect us from those who would use them to destroy innocence, hope and trust in our land and its people.