Q&A: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – unless you really want to know

By |2009-02-05T09:00:00-05:00February 5th, 2009|Opinions|

Whenever I wanted my mother’s opinion on something controversial, she would always preface her response with “Don’t ask me if you don’t want to hear what I have to say and don’t expect me to tell you what you want to hear just to make you feel good.”
Occasionally I would withdraw the question, but most of the time I would take a breath, re-ask the question and brace myself for the words telling me “what she really thought.” Knowing that even in disagreement she would weigh the pros and cons, make me think and, ultimately, help me to make my own decision. If I could look at myself in the mirror and know in my heart of hearts I had made the right decision, I knew that even if my mother differed, I would have her support and respect because I was living my truth.
That is really the best thing a parent, mentor or friend can do: help us to make decisions that are our own – thoughtful, honest decisions based on our core beliefs.
Consequently, I have been rather outspoken – speaking my truths and calling it like I see it. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
I recently experienced one of those moments when an interviewer sent me a list of questions for an “e-mail interview.” From the first question, I knew the slant of the interview did not reflect where I am politically and philosophically in relation to the future of our LGBT community.
I thought back to those conversations with my mother. Would I be directed by their lead and give the answers for the story that would make everyone feel good or speak my thoughts knowing it might not be what they wanted to hear?
The decision was easy.
The interviewer was disappointed. Although they had asked me what I thought, it was being implied what I should tell them to make the article happen and the editors happy. So, needless to say, no article.
However, I thought there were some very good questions that raised some points worthy of discussion.
The first question was “Do you think the gay rights community is more divided now than at times in the past? If so, to what do you attribute that division?”
I think it is more in flux than divided. We have a whole new playing field locally and nationally. We don’t really know what our new friends in Washington, D.C. or Lansing are going to do; what promises they will keep or break. There were many implied promises, but now what? How do we handle our political clout? Nationally, and especially in Michigan, there have been tremendous changes in leadership. Old issues, tensions and struggles between our organizations are outdated. It is no longer about power or who gets the credit for what. It is about our community, our LGBT community and how we will advance toward full equality.
They also commented that it seems like there was a good deal of anger unleashed as a result of Prop. 8 passing in California, considerably more than after the passage of a couple dozen other anti-gay marriage initiatives in other states. They asked why I thought that was.
To me, Prop. 8 was the ultimate wake-up call – a slap in the face. We could fool ourselves into believing that statewide, voters were perhaps uninformed, scared, even provincial. But California – there’s San Francisco, “The L Word,” Ellen Degeneres and other big and small screen names who were openly gay and others who were vocally our allies. The court had affirmed our right to marry and even Arnold “the Governator” said a ballot initiative was misguided. We had star power. Our organizations asked us for and spent major dollars. It should have been a slam dunk. Instead we saw the lengths our enemies would go to deny us our rights. We thought we brought our “A” game and we got spanked royally. This was huge. All of our hopes and fantasies of California freedom/equality were dashed and we saw just how unprepared, after all the statewide skirmishes, we were to fight a full court press by the far right, religious fundamentalists and their propaganda machine.
Another interesting question was, if I saw a split between more moderate and more extreme elements and organizations in the gay rights community. I see a split but think it is more by generation and class. Younger generations of LGBT community are impatient but also more hopeful. Unemployment, lack of health care, foreclosure and the other challenges have put many of us in survivor mode. No longer willing or able to wait for change, we are engaged and more active than ever before. No one is unaffected. Some just have more insulation than others, but we are all ready for change.
We must have a stronger grassroots movement. We need to work not just on issues solely gay, but issues addressing social justice. We must send a clear message that we are not seeing or wanting special rights. We are part of the fabric of America and unless we achieve full equality this country will remain in a quagmire hurting all Americans.
It is serendipitous that the film “Milk” came out at this time with its message of hope, collaboration and political engagement. As if the stars had again aligned as in Milk’s time we are moved by the spirit of change embracing the country. We must develop new strategies and better ways of working together. We must tell our stories, never holding back or parsing words to soften our message so it is more palatable.
Tomorrow seems so far away, but it is really within reach. Be out. Have hope. Speak your truth.

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Michelle E. Brown is a public speaker, activist and author. Her blog radio podcast “Collections By Michelle Brown” airs every Thursday at 7 p.m. Current and archived episodes can be heard on Blog Talk Radio, iTunes, Stitcher or SoundCloud. Follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/CollectionsbyMichelleBrown/.