Op-ed: The Accidental Activist in You and Me
BY Kristen Becker
April 25 2014 7:00 AM ET
In January I wrote an article about Louisiana, the state I grew up in and love dearly. That piece made it around the gay media, and before I knew it, I was being contacted about progress being made and was asked if I would care to speak on behalf of the cause. Specifically, would I come to Louisiana and support the movement?
Commenters on websites challenged me to leave my liberal bubble of New York, where I was legally protected, and head south of the Mason-Dixon to put my “funny where my mouth was.” I was asked to testify in the state legislature on behalf of the Louisiana Non-Discrimination Act, HB #199. I was immediately intimidated and excited. Was I qualified for this? Within the first week of arriving, I have had the pleasure of speaking with some of the most vital activists in this area, people who have been fighting the fight long before I showed up. They also reassured me that I too was an activist. I never saw myself as such. I am a comedian first and foremost but now know that who I am, a lesbian speaking openly about being a lesbian, is enough to qualify me in this neck of the woods.
I guess I'm an accidental activist. I have always been outspoken. It is a blessing and a curse, even in the world of comedy. I have a level of self-righteousness that surpasses most, and I have no idea why. I don’t boast a multitude of degrees that would fuel my beliefs, but I was taught to stand up for what I believe. When I first started in comedy, a veteran comic told me, “Becker, you are really talented, but you are going to be one of those people who says the wrong thing to people in power and end up shooting yourself in the foot.” Guess what? He was mostly right, except that I disagree you can say a “wrong thing” to anyone if you are saying it from a place of honesty. That is not to say that we shouldn’t be mindful of saying hurtful things, because we should. I just think standing up for yourself is in a different category.
No matter how difficult it is, honesty is always the best answer. Yes, sometimes your truthfulness will offend others. Sometimes your beliefs will conflict, but that doesn’t mean your beliefs are less valid just because you don’t hold the power in a situation. People hold power as long as you give them the power. With few exceptions, power is a state of mind.
What is my point, you ask? I guess it is that I want you to know that you are an activist. We are all activists, in that we all have the ability to speak up for our beliefs. It's as simple as that. In our day and age, there are so many ways to support a cause and there is no one “right” way to do it. You can donate money to organizations that further your beliefs, if you have money. You can participate in every 5K walk that comes through town. Do whatever you believe is a way to help. Get creative with it, and if someone involved in the cause doesn’t like your approach, fuck ’em. Your effort is as valid as theirs.
Until now I thought I needed to be Harvey Milk in order to affect change. I don’t and neither do you. Think out of the box. My favorite idea of guerrilla activism thus far is the idea of starting a church in the states where the “conservative” movement is using “religious freedom” to practice discrimination. Inherent to those laws is the idea that your church may practice whatever it likes. Even love and tolerance! It is simple to start a church, plus the tax benefits make it financially worth the time. Think outside the box; color outside the lines.
As a lesbian comedian, I come from a long line of performer-activists. I am doing my best to honor their work. I am not here to tell you how to participate – that is up to you. I am just asking you to participate. Of course, if you are in Louisiana or surrounding areas and you can show up when LANA is being heard, I would be forever grateful. The show of support is critical. Our biggest dilemma is that by showing up, Louisiana gays put themselves in harm’s way. The very law we are trying to repeal prevents folks from showing up to support its repeal, lest they face consequences. I can’t think of a better representation of oppression. Except we can change this. The power is ours next week.
To read more about the fight in Louisiana go here or #befairlouisiana on Twitter.
P.S. If you ever called me a dyke in high school, or ever picked on anyone because of perceived sexuality, we forgive you. If you could just call your local representative, we can call it a wash.
KRISTEN BECKER is a stand-up comedian in Buffalo, N.Y. Follow her fight for equality on Twitter at @beckercomedy. This article originally posted on KristenBecker.com and is reprinted with permission.