Over at Princeton’s new queer-community blog, my colleague Ryan has written a great, thoughtful post about making a career in queer activism work:
I feel extremely conflicted towards the LGBT movement establishment and question whether I want to make a career out of LGBT advocacy.
Before coming to Princeton, I was Director of Louisiana’s statewide LGBT advocacy organization, the Forum For Equality. It was an amazing and challenging experience — as one might expect, there are a unique set of priorities and obstacles for the movement in the American South. I am incredibly proud of my work at the Forum, and it seems natural for me to return to this type of work upon graduation.
But when I think of returning to work for LGBT issues, I wonder what is motivating me. Is it a sense of guilt or obligation? Should smart young gay people who are interested in politics feel as if they “must” work for LGBT rights? The LGBT community is a small minority, and those with elite educations are an even smaller minority. Who am I to turn my back on the movement that has allowed me to be who I am?
Ryan continues, asking (very saliently, I think) whether the developing world would be a better use of his talents, and implicitly noting how exhausting political advocacy work can be. But he didn’t note something else I think is important, which is that there is more than one way to be an activist. Deciding against a career in LGBT advocacy and policy, or advocacy and policy at all, does not mean turning your back on queer issues and being an advocate for queer visibility, acceptance, and civil rights. I consider myself a queer activist through my work at learning to be a historian and an educator, because someday I intend to make a career out of telling the stories of queer lives long ended, out of developing critical frameworks through which to examine the sexualities and identities and cultural movements of the past, and out of passing all this information on to a new generation of young folks whose lives were changed by learning about Harvey Milk or Stonewall and who are ready to learn so much more. Long after marriage and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell are decided in America, all around the world we will have a need for people to tell stories like the ones I am learning to tell—and, if necessary, perhaps to tell their own stories of their own lives too. Staying well-informed enough and staying accessible enough that when someone has a question about queer issues you can take a half-hour to answer it is a form of activism. Being out is a form of activism. And if all these things weren’t true, I wouldn’t be able to reconcile the life I want to lead with the principles I believe in.
And teaching—about queer stuff or not—is the greatest way that there is to make the world you believe in and dream of for the next generation.
Addendum: I see that a lot of people are coming to this blog from a College Confidential thread about the atmosphere for LGBT students at Princeton. If you’re a prospective Princeton student seeking information about LGBT life on campus, please feel free to contact me, and I will absolutely answer any questions you have.