Em-URGE-ing Voices

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Creating Change 2014: We Need our Differences to Build Solidarity

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February 3, 2014

I’m writing this post as I wait for my flight to take me back to Kansas City and away from Houston, Texas where I’ve just spent the last few days with a couple thousand other queermos, at the largest LGBT annual conference in the country. It’s only been a few days, but it’s been days full of non-stop policy appraisals, organizing, outfit planning, strategizing, educating, waiting in 15 deep Starbucks lines, challenging, affirming, networking, (and maybe the tiniest bit of having-a-good-time-ing). I’m beyond exhausted. But I’m also sad to be leaving. Being around 4,000 individuals dedicated to so many of your own progressive core values, especially as a Midwest gal stuck in bleeding red state, is thrilling. And especially as a super queer Midwest gal who spent nearly 19 of her 21 years closeted—hoo boy. It’s a culture shock of the best, most freeing kind.

I’m going to try to temper the “kumbaya” sentimentality as much as possible. And it’s not as if the conference was perfect (ending the youth dance event with Macklemore? Dude.) However, I can’t pretend that the sense of—kinship—at the conference didn’t make me feel just a little lighter in heart and spirit. The air was ripe with the sense that people just got it in a quantity and assuredness that I at least normally don’t encounter. There was a sense of unity, of solidarity.

But, this solidarity wasn’t fostered by a proclamation that “we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re the same.” It didn’t seem to me that people “got it” because we all had the same exact experience to quantify and “get.” It came from a recognition that everyone at that conference were all incredibly, vastly different from one another: in race, in class, in experience, and so on. Even in queerness, our experience cannot be monolithic. The differences among us were astounding and visible and poignant. And that’s why I felt solidarity. Not because I heard “You’re just like me!” but because I kept hearing “You’re very different from me—and I from you. Let’s learn from each other. Let’s see this difference, and work to stop difference as a reason for inequity.”

Recognition of difference is the only way to create an LGBT/Queer Rights Movement that includes everyone in the movement. If we ignore what sets us apart from one another, we don’t only to a disservice to our own innate richness—we irreparably harm those in our community. We bury our stories. We become unseen. And we stop listening.

I think Laverne Cox said it best in the opening keynote Thursday:

“These are the kinds of conversation we need to have more of in our community, where we are really there for each other across difference, because we are all LGBTQ—queer—but we have all these differences. We have so many things we have in common, but we have so many ways that make us different. And we can have conversations across those differences with love. And empathy. And vulnerability.”

And solidarity.

Watch Laverne Cox’s full speech here:



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