This weekend’s Camp Courage in Sacramento was a good tonic for the loss in Maine and part of our collective path forward to restoring marriage equality to California. The heart of Camp Courage is learning how to craft your “story-of-self” a personal, emotional version of who you are and why this issue matters so much to you. The goal is to empower activists to use their personal narrative to bring about political change. Stories-of-self can be used to recruit volunteers, to inspire a crowd or to change a persons’ vote one door at a time.
It isn’t easy to have people open up and share the most painful, scary, raw parts of their lives. But those are the stories that are the ones that need to be told the most. The power of Camp Courage comes from people risking sharing their stories of pain thus forming community and strength.
Adam Bink over at Open Left quotes Harvey Milk’s famous “come out come out” speech and writes:
The same tactic Milk used for school employees everywhere must continue to be used in these communities. We have to encourage people in these towns to come out of the closet and say they want the right to marry. State Representative Mike Carey, who represents heavily Catholic downtown Lewiston and voted in favor of marriage equality in the legislature, pointed out to me that in these kinds of votes, the default vote is for fear, and it is a huge barrier to reach one’s conscience if they have no personal knowledge of the issue. For all the “gay marriage will be taught in schools” ads our opponents ran in Maine and will run in other states that tap that fear element, we have to counter with people who can give voters that kind of personal touch on the issue.
It isn’t just gay people that we need to come out and tell their stories, it is all of our wonderful straight allies. No, there is no application to become a straight ally, just start telling everyone you know your personal story of why you support equality for all.
One of our amazing volunteers that helped put together Camp Courage Sacramento Chris Huack brought his parents to Camp. He blogged about the experience at the Courage Campaign. Here is Chris relaying the three reflections his dad had about Camp. (more on the flip)
1 – He had no idea the pain that LGBT people had felt over discrimination and losing initiatives like Proposition 8 and Question 1 until he saw people speaking about them openly and honestly at the Camp. See, I have always been a more stoic, let’s “focus on what we can do in the future” type of person, so for my Mom and Dad, they had never truly appreciated the pain this had inflicted on our community until they heard the stories of personal pain from others.
2 – My Dad shared with me his “Story of Self.” He had a gay cousin who had died of AIDS when my Dad was in his 20s. He had a lesbian sister who had come out to him and was now married with her wife. And he had me, his gay son, who was fighting for equality and who he hoped could one day get married in front of friends and family. LGBT issues had slowly intertwined their way thought his life and had always handled them decently (very supportive of me and his sister), but now realized his previous actions had been woefully inadequate and that he could no longer sit on the sidelines while people he cared about suffered and were discriminated against.
3 – He needed to get involved today. He wanted to sign up to canvass and to join California Faith for Equality, provided they had a means for him to contribute to meaningful action.
As stoic as I may be, I found myself fighting back tears as my Dad related this to me and my Mom agreed with him. Then at dinner, as my Dad related to other family members what he had learned and why it was so important for us to proactively work for change – I fully understood the importance of Camp Courage. Yes, it is a great experience for LGBT leaders and organizers. However, I missed an important opportunity in East LA, when I went to Camp but neglected to recruit my straight friends and family in LA to attend with me. This experience is not just a meaningful skills training for gay people – it is an opportunity to teach, empower and share ourselves and our struggle more fully with friends, straight allies and family. It is an opportunity to bring new faces and perspectives into the fight for equality.
One by one we are building an army to repeal Prop 8. It is not easy, or fast, but it is absolutely critical to our success. The best way we change hearts and minds is having everyone supportive of equality speaking from their hearts.
We have to be vulnerable. It is wrenching to know that as a gay person that the best path to earning the right to get married some day is if I share my most painful moments of my life with strangers in order to win their vote. It shouldn’t be that way, but that’s what it takes and it is what I will continue to do. Will you join me?
(full disclosure: I proudly work for the Courage Campaign)