Protest and Celebration: Atlanta Pride Parade 2015

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It’s that time of year again…  October. Nope, I’m not talking about pumpkins. I’m not talking about farms or scarecrows or black cats. I’m talking about PRIDE!

(For those who may not know:  the Pride Parade is an event that celebrates LGBTQ+ culture in all its forms. I blogged about it last year if you want to check that out).

It’s kind of like a moving festival, a party that walks around a few blocks of the city, in all its rainbow glory…

But it’s also a protest.

I made a point of highlighting that in last year’s post. Pride may resemble a festival on nearly every front, but there’s more than that under the surface.

There are so many people who do not have the freedom to say “this is who I am, deal with it.” For every happy, out-of-the-closet, comfortable-with-who-they-are person I saw yesterday? There’s someone else, living two lives: one on the inside, and one on the outside. And as much as Pride is a celebration of the former, it’s also a show of solidarity for the latter, a kind of proof that it can be better. And above all, it’s a way of showing that it should be better, that no one should have to live in fear.

People like to make a distinction between “gay rights” and HUMAN rights. But can we all agree that such a distinction is utterly, and useless, because those two categories are one and the same?

There were some definite similarities between Pride this year and last year.

As always, the people at the parade are incredibly friendly, and colorful, and bright. No one shows up to Pride unless they’re comfortable with being who they are, or at least comfortable believing what they believe. There’s a reason the event is called pride. I, personally, am proud to be an ally. I have friends who are proud to carry a rainbow flag. I marched with the Jewish group again this year, and I am proud to be in that community as well, a community that supports PEOPLE. Because, really, we’re all people.

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Last year, I noted that the LGBTQ+ community in Atlanta is much larger and much more diverse than I had thought.  This year, I was expecting much of what I saw: hundreds of people. Flooding the streets and the lawns and the sidewalks. Bright colors.  From all different backgrounds. And every one of them, screaming at the top of their lungs, “HAPPY PRIDE.”

As we walked, I got to watch one of my good friends figure out  what I realized last year. No matter who you are or what you are, there is someone who loves you and someone who will accept you.

I marched with a group of Jewish teens last year, and I marched with a group of Jewish teens this year. But last year, I was the wide-eyed newbie, who had only ever seen the parade from the sidelines. This year, I got to watch as my friends took in the scenery when we walked by.  I got to watch as they realized just how BIG and accepting the community in Atlanta really is.

I know that I tend to think of my city as much smaller than it is. But it’s actually enormous. And the number of people who showed up to march yesterday are only a small percentage of the people they/we represent.

The difference between this year and last year is also decidedly present in the protest itself. Last year, we were marching for the purpose of changing legislation, for shifting societal ideals, for making the world a better, more equal place. This year, all of that was still true. BUT IT WAS A CELEBRATION, because of the Supreme Court’s decision regarding gay marriage this summer.

We’re still fighting, and it’s a long and arduous struggle, no doubt about it. But we’re making progress, which is something that is really important to remember.

I talked about the Pansy Patrol last year. We were protesting, yes. But other people showed up to protest our protest, saying that the community we represent is somehow fundamentally wrong. They were carrying signs, on long poles. Within seconds of their showing up, the Pansy Patrol came to the rescue, holding signs with giant flowers on the ends of them, strategically placing them to block the nasty signs. But this year, the Pansy Patrol was about half the size it was last time. The reasoning? The number of people they were blocking was about half the size as well. One more small triumph.

Another difference, on a more localized scale: I, personally, was much more comfortable reaching out and talking to new people. Not just exchanging perfunctory “hellos,” but actually listening to what they had to say. NOTE: there are some unbelievable stories out there, and they all deserve to be heard. Snapchat-4850517411537377966

Fun fact: two people can always find a commonality if they talk to each other long enough.

In most cases yesterday, we were playing “Jewish Geography”, and finding common acquaintances. But in some cases, it was a lot simpler than that. I had a quote written on my arm, from a series of books by Jacqueline Carey. “Love as thou wilt.” In the books, this pretty much means: “Love whoever the heck you want. If it’s love, and you’re happy, then the rest of us don’t give a flying flip.”

I wasn’t expecting anyone to actually get that reference. But what do I know?

At least four people stopped me and said something about the words. Something like “OH MY GOSH I LOVE THAT SERIES,” or “you have good taste in books.”

That’s the thing about Pride: I wasn’t just a walker or a gawker. No one is. I was a participant. This is the point I am trying to hammer home: it’s a community, one in which it doesn’t matter who or what you are, because you’re a person, you’re strong, and you matter—and at Pride, people get that, from Republican politicians to Rabbis, to the Pansy Patrol.

I’m a straight, cisgender, female. I’m an ally. I love this community, and I am so far beyond proud to see my city embrace it.

Speechless: National Day of Silence 2015

Today was a strange day, in a lot of ways.

First of all, I should explain that it is National Day of Silence, as a protest for LGBTQ+ rights. The idea goes beyond simply raising awareness—people feel silenced, incapable of speech, and this day is also supposed to give those of us who are allies a better idea of what they may be going through.

I participated, along with a few other students at my school. And for me, at least, it was very, very strange.

The not-speaking part was actually not the most difficult part of the day, which may come as a surprise to many of the people who know me. I’m not a quiet person, but I still managed to communicate reasonably well—I was astonished at how many people understood what I wasn’t saying.

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The strange part was in the conversations that happened around me, that on any other day I would have actively participated in, but today I simply followed along.

I learned more than I expected to.

For one thing, I discovered that not a lot of people actually know very much about an issue that matters a lot to me (that being, LGBTQ+ rights). I had to explain what the Q stands for via whiteboard and miming more times than I can count, and all the while I couldn’t decide whether the appropriate response was to pull all my hair out in frustration, or to just convince them to look it up—it’s not like I’m the most authoritative expert out there when it comes to this subject.

I also learned how easy it is to lose track of a conversation when I was not directly participating in it. I had to mime half of what I wanted to communicate, and that got so frustrating that I ended up simply not bothering. It was really chilling, how easy it was to simply check out of the conversation altogether. It was truly isolating, even though I was surrounded by some of my close friends throughout the day.

But the most surprising part of the day was, weirdly enough, my Bible class. I attend a southern Presbyterian school. It is never in question that I am probably going to be in the definite minority when to comes to religion or politics. This sometimes makes Bible class… not the most comfortable place on the planet, but usually leads to some interesting and surprisingly deep conversations. Today was no exception, and the conversation we had certainly lent me some insight into a mindset that I tend to avoid at all costs.

I am referring, of course, to the opposition against LGBTQ+ equality that can be found basically everywhere on this side of the Mason-Dixon Line, especially in the very Christian and generally Conservative high schools.

I didn’t have to explain what the Day of Silence was for—enough people were asking that question that my teacher was answering it. But I did get to look on in astonishment as the entire classroom of people began arguing over what equality means and what it really means to be a person or to sin. No one really referred to the biblical text itself. Instead, everyone began talking about their experience with the topic, or about how in their family, they believe such-and-such, and why everyone should or should not be treated equally…

Some of what I heard, I found genuinely upsetting on a lot of levels.

But other parts of the conversation were really comforting.

People whom I would never have expected to deviate from the typical derogatory terms and ideals turned out to feel very passionately about the issue, and spoke up about it very articulately, and had clearly put a lot of thought into their rationale.

In its own very small way, it was exactly what a protest should be.

I know that perhaps I did not grasp the full truth of what it means to not be able to communicate, to feel completely silenced. I had friends and faculty around me who knew exactly what I was doing and why. I had an end time in sight. I knew that when the day was over, I would be able to stop what I was doing and speak again. I had few qualms about comedic miming and laughter. I even resorted to Morse code and finger-spelling in American Sign Language, at one point, when I was trying to communicate what time a class ended.

In a lot of ways, I ended up treating it like a puzzle without even realizing it. I was coming up with ways around speaking, instead of letting myself simply fade into the background– so, not exactly the experience that I was trying to emulate.

But I think that it ended up okay, because this protest, small as it was, had an effect that I did not see coming. I got to watch the ripple of understanding spreading outwards, and I got to listen.

It’s crazy how much you can hear when you aren’t speaking.

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History left me shaking (NFTY Convention Post 3)

If you read this blog, or if you know me—at all—then you probably know that I care a lot about human rights. And I’m from the South, and Jewish. So the civil rights movement of the 60s has been deeply ingrained in me since I was ten years old, as something to know, to understand, and to learn from.

I’ve wanted to visit the National Center for Civil and Human Rights (a museum in Atlanta) ever since I heard of its existence to begin with.

Las weekend, as a part of the National NFTY Convention, I got the opportunity to go.

Words cannot describe the experience, not in full.

I’ve been trying. I’ve written several poems, had countless discussions with some of the people who were at the center with me.

I’m still processing the experience.

The museum itself is divided into three levels.

The top floor is dedicated to current, unresolved human rights crises, and there is a station to record your own human-rights centered message. There are lists of aid organizations, ways to get involved. There are maps, personal stories from around the world that people have recorded, stories of trial, of betrayal, of survival, of hope, each featuring a different issue.

The bottom floor contains a small library of Martin Luther King jr. speeches. Not the recordings, not transcripts. I mean real, physical pieces of paper, covered in his handwriting, or words typed out on his typewriter, his signature on each one.

Original documents, paper that has yellowed. Tangible—through glass—pieces of a history close to my heart.

In this room, a screen dominates the furthermost wall. The words “I have a dream” drift across it, in more languages than I could count. The other walls are covered in MLK jr. quotes, including the iconic ““Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream,” and the quote that I live by, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

It is a room of words, words of struggle and of triumph. They are the words on which my version of the South was built. Without these words, my life and the life of anyone else who lives here would be very different, and significantly more hostile.

But I read and I listen. Specifically as a Jew in the South, I am particularly attuned to issues of racism and anti-semitism. I know about the Temple bombing and its significance today. I know the story of Leo Frank, a name mostly forgotten by my own generation. I do not forget that it wouldn’t take much for this peace I experience to collapse.

And that is what ties the middle floor, the main floor of the museum, together with the rest of it for me.

It is the floor that brings the point home.

The group I was with began with this floor, and then we came back to it again, because it was so impactful. The reason it hit so hard, so close to home for me, was a simulation experience. A lunch counter. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the lunch counter sit –ins of the South. Nonviolent protests, wherein people sat at white-only lunch counters until they were served.

These people withstood injury, screaming, threats, humiliation— pretty much every mechanism of degradation that exists.

Most people think that simply “sitting still” is easy.

I know that I’ve thought so a few times.

Now, after this simulation, I know that I will never think that thought again.

At first, it seems innocuous.

There is a small, simple queue line. A small simple platform, with a set of chairs with high backs—and a counter, with sensors for you to place your hands.

You step up to the counter, and sit in the chair, read the instructions written on the wall. You will put on the headphones witting on the counter in front of you. You will place your hands on the sensors for as long as you can manage it. The simulation ends the moment you remove your hands.

You slide the headphones on.

At first, you hear only static.

Then a rough, harsh voice slides in, tense with indirect threat. But it’s quiet. You think that maybe this won’t be too bad.

But more voices join in, begin threatening you, promising to stab you in the throat with the fork at your place setting if you do not get up. Your chair begins jolting, as the men—all men—in your headphones describe that they are kicking you and will eventually kill you. You, as a teenage girl, are only thankful that they do not describe the things that they would do to your body. But you can imagine it all too well. They scream at you, “get up, get up.”

You fix your eyes on the clock, counting your time at the sensors with red dashes. it is the only way to keep yourself from closing your eyes, you think, because if you close your eyes then you will begin to picture the scenario, and you can’t bring yourself to do that more vividly than you already are doing.

One minute, thirty-six seconds.

The recording ends with sirens, and you doubt that the person at the lunch counter managed to survive or not.

You look at your hands and realize that you are shaking.

One minute and thirty-six seconds.

Half an hour later, you still tremble, and you jump at the sound of chairs scraping on the ground, when you see a metal fork at dinner. Someone bumps your seat by accident, and you discover that you do not have enough moisture in your throat to scream, no matter how much you want to.

One minute, thirty-six seconds.

People in real life lasted five to eight hours.

I did this simulation twice. The second time, I knew what was coming, and while I might have been able to brace myself for it better, I was also dreading it even more.

It was one of the most powerful things I have ever been through.

I still can’t quite capture it. I have come to the conclusion that it is not a thing for words. It is a thing for experiencing, and one that I believe everyone should go through, for the sake of learning, of knowing, and of understanding—even if it’s only on this tiny scale.

What makes a leader? (NFTY Convention Post 2)

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Leadership is an interesting thing.

I mentioned in the last post that I was a part of the national convention for my youth group, NFTY.

While there, I attended multiple workshops on social justice, and also on leadership—specifically, what it takes to step up, and what it means to be a leader once you’re there.

In my region, we have an extensive elections process for those who want to be on the leadership teams in NFTY.

In other regions, the process can be more or less arduous, but no less legitimate.

And it got me thinking. Because leadership can be strange—sometimes, the true leaders in a community are the ones who have never been anywhere near an official title. Sometimes they are, in fact, the elected officials. But they are always there. Which raises the question: What is it that separates a leader from someone who isn’t?

I think that there are many, many different types of leaders.

The first is the obvious. The ones who walk into a room and immediately take charge, who have enough confidence to stand up and declare “I want to be a leader!” These are the ones who will be elected to some position sooner or later, and even if they aren’t, they will probably serve on a committee before they leave the organization. People are drawn to them. They know it.

The second is considerably more subtle. The people who never run for a position, who never state that they want any type of power. These are the people with quiet strength, who say little, but when they do speak up, it means something. These are the people to whom everyone looks, but perhaps the rest of the group is not actually aware of that.

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Both types of leaders are valid, and there are a hundred more types in between.

The question is… What makes a leader who and what they are?

Is it confidence? Is it charisma, the ability to hold the attention of everyone in the room? Is it simply intelligence, the power of a high IQ and good ideas?

Is it the ability to take a loss?

I attended a workshop on how to select the leaders, from within a community.

It turns out, there are many different ways to do that, and no system is perfect.

For some groups, the system is self-selective. The leaders step up, they form a little interconnected community, and they go from there, somehow being perfectly functional. Some people do it through nominations. My group does some sort of combination thereof.

But we learned about another group, Netzer Olami, which is our umbrella organization (you might call it a parent organization). For them, everyone is a leader, from the day they first join the organization, until they are eighteen and they age out. Older kids are in charge of the younger kids, and younger kids are in charge of themselves. They are groups, they are committees, run entirely by themselves and by each other.

And it works.

I don’t know what the most important trait is that a leader has to have. I don’t know what the best way is to select a leader.

What I do know is that everyone has the potential to be one.

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A More Vivid Viewpoint: Atlanta Pride Parade 2014

Yesterday, I attended the Atlanta Pride Parade. Oh wait. Did I say ‘attended’? I meant marched in. It was a mile and a half of unreasonably hot and sticky weather, complete with floats, trucks, banners, rainbow-wearing people with not a whole lot of clothing on, flags, and the tallest pair of glittery platform boots I have ever seen.

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It was also a mile and a half of thoroughly eye-opening experience.
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In a cross country race, I run more than twice that distance in under half an hour, and somehow every race feels the same. But this? This mile and a half walk may have changed my life.

It’s not one of those big TV-Reveal sorts of things. It’s more of a “oh hey, the world can look very, very different from the way I usually see it,” sorts of things.

I’m a straight, cisgender female. I don’t exactly deal with a lot of discrimination for who or what I am on a day-to-day basis. So, I tend to see the world in a slightly toned-down way. I am an observer. I live life on the periphery, very seldom in the direct crosshairs of any conflict.

After yesterday, though, it’s like someone took my watercolor world and turned up the color saturation.

I’ve seen a lot that I sometimes wish I hadn’t, but much of the time I ignore it. And that has to stop. Because there were so many people out there sharing stories, holding up signs. Those stories were ones of hardship. And it’s just a small sampling of the stories out there. I’ve known that. But I don’t think it really it home for me until yesterday, and there are a couple of specific reasons why.

  1. The pride parade is a protest. It’s easy to forget that, because it’s bright and festive, and it’s full of people rejoicing in who they are. But it’s one day, out of a whole year, that they get the opportunity to do that. A lot of people take their freedom of self-expression for granted, but you know what? As much as it should be a human right, love seems not to be. And even on this day, the one day when being expressive is guaranteed, people still show up to shut these people down.

Yeah, that’s right. You can even read that sentence again if you need to. People showed up to protest our protest.
We were marching, with our signs and banners and flags, and just as we turned a corner, we ran into a group of people on the sidelines, holding up giant squares of cardboard, declaring that equality is wrong, and that God loves some people more than others, and who the hell even knows what. My point is that they showed up for no reason other than to try and disrupt the event.
The incredible part is what happened next. People from the parade stopped marching and walked over to the sidelines, where the protest-protesters were. And then they pulled out giant cardboard flowers, mounted them on tall rods, and held them up in front of the offensive signs, so that they could not be seen. They did not say anything, they did not shout or yell, or make a scene. They just quietly sent a very, very powerful message, just by holding up a few flowers.

Atlanta Gay Pride Parade 2013

  1. The community represented was much more diverse than I ever really considered. I saw a sign being held up a few people over that said “Soy Gay, Soy Cristiano, y Dios me ama,” which in Spanish translates to “I’m gay, I’m a Christian, and God loves me.”
    I ended up speaking with the man and woman holding up the sign. Neither of them spoke much English, so the conversation was entirely in Spanish. I learned that they live together, and he is a chef at one of the restaurants that lines the road. And he’s bisexual, and has suffered a lot for it in his very Christian community. Neither of them spoke enough English to know exactly what was going on with the pride parade, but as she put it, “Vi el desfile y los colores, y no supe nada, pero supe que quise escribir estas palabras, y caminar con ellos. Y él los vió también, y lo quiso también,” or, “I saw the parade, and all I knew was that I wanted to write these words and march with them, and he saw what was going on too, and wanted to walk with them as well.”
    I think that I, and probably many others, tend to think about LGBTQA prosecution as something endemic to the US, because that’s where we live, and those are the people with whom we interact. But I realized yesterday just how widespread an issue it is. But it’s also a widespread community. That conversation I had with that woman could never have happened anywhere else. The reason it happened at all is because we were all there for very similar reasons, and that was what mattered. Not language, not skin color, not sexual orientation, not gender, not religion. Just the fact that we all wanted to stand up for someone else or for ourselves.
  2. I noticed something else, something tiny.
    The Shakespeare Tavern is a fairly nice theater in Atlanta. I’ve been there a lot of times to go and see a lot of Shakespeare shows. And it’s looked the same from the outside every time. I’m kind of used to it, as just a part of the scenery. But as we were marching, and we passed by it, something was very different from the way I usually see it. A group of the actors who work there were all gathered at one of the second-floor windows, holding out a sign that read, “This above all” To thine own self be true.”
    To be fair, this quote meant something very different in Elizabethan times. But if I’m willing to forget that for the moment, which I am, i think there’s something extraordinary about it.
    I’m used to seeing places like the Shakespeare Tavern as safe havens, simply because when I go there, I am there to be unapologetically literary, and I’m usually there with friends.
    Now I see it as a place where people can just be, unapologetically anything.shakespeare pride

It might not show a whole lot outwardly, but after marching yesterday, I am a different person. I see my city in a different way. Part of the purpose of the parade is to give people an opportunity to be themselves, as loudly and colorfully as they want. I wasn’t there to do that for myself. But even so. I think that just being around so many people who are, whether for one day or for their whole lives, just comfortable in their own skins, taught me something. I would love to rock that level of confidence. I’d probably go about it in a different way, just because dyeing my whole head of hair bright purple, stripping down to my underwear, and wearing seven-inch rainbow stilletos isn’t my style. But I am, without a doubt, inspired by these amazing people who are willing to do what they do with such pride.

They live their lives with the color and brightness turned all the way up, and if I had to sum up what makes the pride parade so extraordinary, that would be it.pride

A Passion to Action: Defining ‘Social Action’

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I have been involved with different social action initiatives and projects for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is of a Hands-On Atlanta project, when my family came out to volunteer with them. I don’t know what we were doing, really, except that it involved cinderblocks, and planting leriope as well as some other flowers. And there was a lot of paint around.

Community service is, to me, a way of life. Paying a motion forwards, or repaying a community. Raising money for the sake of specific causes.

The list goes on and on.

My point is that my parents really pushed both my brother and me to be involved. To be grateful for what we have, and to help others. It’s never been a thing that took effort to want to be involved in. The opportunities have been everywhere, and the idea of social action has always permeated the atmosphere of day-to-day life. I guess, on some level, I expect other people to share that point of view.

That’s why it shocked me when, less than a week ago, I told a good friend of mine that I would be spending my day attending a social action workshop, and he asked me, “What’s social action? Is it just like, being social? No thanks.”

I was floored. I scrambled for a definition that would not sound too religious or controversial. I refused to use the term “charity”, because that is not what it is. I could not use the term “community service”, because that’s not quite it either.

I think the best answer I could come up with “working to fix the world”.

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But to be honest, none of these quite sum it up. Because really, social action is so much more than that. The world does need “fixing”. And social action does a good job of helping to do that. But it also consists of spreading contagious goodwill throughout the world. It’s all about taking the resources you have, and doing what you can to help a cause you are passionate about. No one ever starts from nothing, the trick is figuring out what you have, and who you have, and what the issue is. And then you go out there and you do something about that issue.

A lot of people seem to be under the impression that social action is really just fundraising. To be fair, a lot of organizations— well-respected, successful organizations—treat it as such. The truth is, fundraising can play a big role, but it’s not even the main part of social action. The main part of social action is something so unimaginably simple, yet incredibly complex, that people often forget it exists.

It all starts with an idea.

Many other people seem to believe that the purpose of working for a social action project, or volunteering, is to feel better about yourself by the end of it. They do have a point. By the time I finish working on a project, or volunteering with a great organization, I do feel good about myself. But to be entirely honest, it isn’t a self-gratification feeling. Not really. And the reason for that is that I am truly passionate about the projects I work on. I never work on them because it will make me feel better about the obscene amount of money I spent on a pair of shoes. I work on them because it feels really good knowing that I have made a difference, and I don’t even need the rest of the world to know that I have made that difference. All I need is the knowledge that a movement has begun and that it will continue to live even after I am not involved with it. The GivingPoint Institute, the group I work with now, calls it A Passion To Action.

And that’s what it is.

I came away from this workshop incredibly energized. I was speaking extremely quickly about all of my inspiration and plans for the future, and I still feel that way. I went home and I wrote up and organized the data I needed. I prioritized the social action projects ahead of my more academic work. I am perfectly serious about everything I say and do relating to these projects. There is very little in this entire world, save creative writing, that can inspire me the way social action does. And I think that more people in this world could stand to learn something like that, because everyone deserves to feel this way.

I love social action. I’ve loved it since I was little. Not because I can feel better about myself, but because I can feel better about this world, knowing that there are some incredible people out there making incredible differences in this world, and I am so lucky and so grateful to be working alongside them.

So when someone asks me to define ‘social action’, it’s no wonder I freeze up a little bit. I hope that someday, everyone will find a social passion that they care about enough to put as much effort into as I have mine. And I hope that someday, no one will need a definition.

But in the meantime, I’m happy to share what I know.socialactionlogo