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U.S. Politics
From a Distance

U.S. Politics
From a Distance


As America continues to rejoice in election of Barack Obama -- while gay Californians lament the passing of Prop. 8 -- overseas, political activists look on from a distance. Zachery Scott has watched the drama following Election Day unfold as he serves in the Peace Corps in Mozambique.

It had been a year since I started serving as a health volunteer in the Peace Corps in Mozambique. With the election approaching, everyone was in a tizzy with anticipation to see history made and the United States taken in a new direction. On the evening of November 4, we gathered up the volunteers who lived nearby and held a party at the house of an expat friend. There we could watch the results be announced by CNN on her satellite television almost as if we were back in the States. I, along with millions of others overseas, stayed up till a ridiculous hour (3 a.m. for our group) to watch the election results come in and celebrate as Barack Obama was named our next president.

November 5, the e-mails started. Since I get Internet access only about once a week and it's my main way of communicating with friends and family back home, I was a little surprised to find a barrage of e-mails ranging from exuberant to absolutely furious.

Despite the elation of my fellow volunteers and myself over the presidential and congressional results, the passage of Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage amendment, in California seemed to loom over our other victories like a dark cloud blocking the sun. Everyone I spoke to was downright flabbergasted that a state like California could pass such a dreadful law by popular vote. When it came out that African-Americans and Hispanics, both of whom had enjoyed LGBT support in the past, had turned out in large numbers to vote against marriage equality, that seemed to be the last straw.

From the other side of the world, I began to see my friends stand up and take notice of the political fights that were happening around them. Most people I knew back in Los Angeles had always been out and proud, but they hadn't always politically active. This was a wake-up call to everyone that progress still requires participation.

So the e-mails began. I got chain letters protesting the Mormon Church and questioning its tax-exempt status; I got personal commentaries on people's disappointment and anger; and I got Evites to protest parties and rallies around the city. The gays were really getting their shit together!

Having been raised in South Carolina, where I also attended university, I became used to having to protest anytime the LGBT community was under attack -- which unfortunately was quite frequent.

However, when I moved to Los Angeles, I was amazed at how comfortable gay people were. Having carved out their niche in the various neighborhoods, they had built up strength and protection so that most local politicians wouldn't be caught dead saying any thing against the gay community.

But I also noticed that many LGBT people sometimes forgot what it was like elsewhere in the country -- not to mention the state -- for gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals. Many in our community had gotten too comfortable in their bubble of Los Angeles or West Hollywood and forgot that there is still work to be done in progressing an agenda of equality.

I'll admit that I was one of those people who left my activist feelings at college in return for a calmer life consumed with more pleasant everyday issues.

In turn, we forgot that you can't take traditionally liberal votes for granted. That every political interaction on our part, in this case with African-Americans or Hispanics, needs to also be a teaching opportunity on issues important to us.

Indeed, while I am disappointed that I can't be back in California to march against Prop. 8, I find comfort in knowing that those same friends who normally wouldn't have been riled up over political issues are now marching en masse. With this wake-up call, the fire of activism and pride, of self-respect and community involvement, seems to have been lit for my generation, and we are already seeing positive results.

Now, instead of receiving angry e-mails and accusatory chain letters, I am hearing friends talk about how invigorating it is to take part in standing up for their rights, as this is the first time that they have done so in such an active way. I hear people talk of the Stonewall protests as if they are bringing back the spirit of the time and applying it to our current fight for marriage equality. Positive messages of strength and pride are being created by these demonstrations, and my generation is being affected by them.

So here I remain in Mozambique working for a different campaign, one of health care and education, but one with the same goal of equal human rights for every person. And while my friends and colleagues march for our right to love and honor equally in California, I will keep watching from a distance, proud of those who have stood up to be counted and optimistic about the future of our cause.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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Zachery Scott