Jimmy Nguyen writes an excellent op-ed on advocate.com about the need for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people to reach out beyond the big cities and subburbs in their advocacy efforts. Nyguen focuses on the National Tour of it gets better, a theatre production based on Dan Savage’s It Get’s Better video project. The production tells the stories of LGBTs and their need for support through song, monologues and multimedia. Nguyen points out that the purpose of the productions outreach is to last beyond what happens on stage:
In each tour stop, the show is preceded by a week of outreach activities. In Iowa, the cast members visited gay-straight alliances at Iowa West and City high schools (where one of the groups is superbly named GLOW – Gays, Lesbians Or Whatever). At the University of Iowa, they spoke to graduate education students about teachers’ responsibility to create a bully-free learning environment for all students. After the show’s technical rehearsal and premiere performance, they held Q and A sessions with the public. Engaging community dialogue is a critical component of the tour.
Nguyen refrences two recent bullying incidents and the positive reaction that came from both. Nguyen says this kind of same reaction would have a tremendous impact on equality for LBGTs. But to get the impact, rural areas need support.
This lesson is evident from two recent bullying incidents targeted not at LGBT kids, but at straight women. In West Branch, Michigan, high school sophomore Whitney Kropp was elected to her high school’s homecoming court as a prank by vindictive classmates. Across the Great Lakes, in Lacrosse, Wisconsin, local morning anchor Jennifer Livingston received an email from a casual viewer who complained that she had a “community responsibility” to lose weight to be a role model for young girls. Though bullied for different reasons, Whitney and Jennifer shared one thing in common: their communities rallied to support them.
Both women received words from people in their hometowns, on Facebook, and across the nation as their stories spread. Whitney Kropp even got what every girl loves – a dream makeover sequence from local business owners. The vast public response convinced Whitney to shine at her homecoming game rather than stay home. For Jennifer Livingston, it emboldened her to speak out on-air against the viewer who complained about her weight and against all forms of bullying. Both women drew strength to stand up against bullies because their communities reminded them they are worthy.
Imagine if these kinds of reaction could swell in hamlets, towns and cities across America. When a gay boy is bullied in school, imagine his neighborhood telling him that he is wanted. If a lesbian woman is mistreated at work, imagine her co-workers empowering her to stand up. If a transgender person suffers discrimination, imagine if neighbors simply offered a kind gesture. For the targeted LGBT person, the impact could be life-changing. For local residents, the effect would incrementally make the community better.
But we can’t expect this to happen on its own. Although LGBT non-profit organizations are resource-strapped, they can help by directing more attention to smaller towns. For urban gay denizens, we need to get out of our gay safety zones and reach out to suburban and rural places across America. Just as in Iowa City, we must motivate residents to speak up, ask questions, and explore solutions.
While most people may think of rural areas as beyond help, I believe that support for LGBT rights is there. I believe that people don’t speak up in support because they face the same fears as LGBTs: rejection, being criticized/ostracized, etc. I believe that we need to support our straight allies as much as they support us. Productions like it gets better not only show LGBTs that they are not alone but also show our supporters and allies that the are not alone. By putting resources into rural areas, we can create an environment where our allies can connect; get support; see they aren’t the only ones of their friends, family, neighbors and co-workers who support LGBT people. When we do this we can create change from the bottom up as well as the top down. We can create a stonger force for achieving full equality.