Every other year, the Point community comes together for the National Leadership Conference (NLC). As a 2017 Scholar, the 2018 NLC in July was my first!
The NLC is a delightful queer-focused time to come together with folks from across the Point family—people who are like-minded in our activism and passionate about bettering the situations of our communities and those we serve. Unsurprisingly, a major topic of conversation was how to continue to be change-makers locally while ultimately impacting our nation and world.
However, I was forced to revisit my idea of what “change-making” could be at the Leadership Dinner on Friday night. Our honoree that evening, Barbara Poma (owner of Pulse Nightclub), shared her approach to activism following the Pulse attack on the LGBTQ community. She told us to “find those tough conversations [with people who disagree with us] and use them” to effect change.
I was struck by this. We typically think of activism as being conference-planning, march-organizing, or community-engaging—the big community projects you read about under #ScholarlyAction! However, “daily activism” can be just as effective. Here are some ways I, and others, go about adding small moments of “daily activism” to our lives.
1. Be visible, as an LGBTQIA person or Ally: Yes, it seems so obvious that visibility matters. However, I’m talking about leaning into those “micro” coming out moments. “What is Point Foundation?” someone will ask, looking at my resume. During lunch with new undergrad researchers, I’ll mention my girlfriend off-hand in conversation. LGTBQ folks know this dance well, and openly asserting our identities is more important than ever. Studies have shown that folks who know LGBTQ folks personally are more likely to support our rights than those who do not.
Allies I’ve spoken with are more at a loss of what to do. Introduce yourself with your pronouns! If your employer or state doesn’t provide full protections, make sure your employees know where you stand on gender identity and sexual orientation protections. My advisor joined a public listing of queer physicists as an ally, which I found while googling her before joining her lab.
Queer folks know that constantly coming out is exhausting, but it is also part of the burden of normalization placed on under-represented groups in society. Allies, help us out!
2. Bring attention to unconscious bias and problematic language in constructive ways: “I just don’t understand why they think that way,” someone said to me recently. Taking a deep breath, I gently discussed “othering” language and how it can make empathy difficult. At a recent diversity board meeting (of people who work on diversity issues!) we paused after someone pointed out that only white folks had been talking during the first 20 minutes of a discussion on race issues. (“I don’t want to make anyone self-conscious, but I also want to encourage folks to step back if they’ve contributed to make room for others.”).
We have all had a moment where the activist in us sees or hears something, cringes, and then has to decide whether to speak up. Let’s push ourselves to speak up.
3. Lean into tough conversations: There is speaking up, and then there’s diving into a conversation. “I just really believe it’s important for a child to have a mother and father.” “Well, she goes by Tom now.” Maybe you felt a similar flood of emotions reading those as I felt writing them!
In the past, I have exhausted myself by trying to change the other person’s mind. Recently, I’ve tried to approach these conversations as simply sharing my perspective (staying on my side of the net). I’ll share what I believe (“I think it’s most important that children are raised in a loving environment”), why (“research”), and how their viewpoint makes me feel (“makes me sad that you might be disappointed when I want to start my own family”).
I’m not perfect at it. I don’t think it’s the one perfect solution. There are still times I do not feel safe taking this approach. But it takes me from a place of anger to a place of empathy, which has made this type of “daily activism” more sustainable for me. A great book recommendation on this topic is “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High” by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler.
4. Take care of yourself: Finally, a caveat on all the above: do these only if you are safe, are healthy, and are ready for it.
I personally find daily activism more taxing than any big event. It can crop up in unexpected moments and drain emotional energy I didn’t have to begin with. Talking with other folks at this year’s NLC, I found that we’ve all developed coping mechanisms to take care of ourselves. One alum told me about a queer rugby league he plays in; a Point staffer told me about a karaoke program they run. Sometimes, I’ll just disengage from the news cycle for a few days when I need a break! Let’s take care of ourselves so we can advocate for others.
Friends and I have referred to this work as the “micro-activism” counter to micro-aggressions: it is exhausting but impactful. Big events can change lives and change communities, but “daily activism” can help change minds and change culture. Let’s do it.
Shannon is currently studying Chemical Engineering at the University of Michigan. She is deeply committed to serving as a mentor to LGBTQ students in STEM fields, developing networks of LGBTQ individuals in these areas, and enabling students with the skills needed to be successful leaders in STEM. Read more about Shannon here.