I’ve had some wonderful conversations with several friends lately, and a certain theme has popped up in most of them. We’ve got to get away from our pets; our pet issues.

So what do I mean by that? Most of us who are GLBT people who happen to be activists are most often known as “gay activists.” Just what does that mean?

Some of the more hostile words or phrases to describe us are “radical gay activists” or “militant gay activists.” I always love hearing that one. Maybe they imagine a flaming queen wearing a pink camouflage uniform with a snap gun. Of course, the uniform is perfectly accessorized with a hot pink beret, bandana, and a strapped purse. Of course, they have the hot pink iPod which has lots of Madonna and ABBA music, along with the Sledge Sister’s “We Are Family” cued at a moment’s notice.

The question remains: does that describe who I am? Of course not. I hate pink. I look terrible in pink. And I don’t own an iPod. Not yet, anyway. But am I radical? Am I militant? More importantly, is that even an effective way to get anything accomplished?

I submit that it isn’t. When we have our “pet issues,” then it’s all we’re known for. When someone sees us take a stage or write an article, they know that we’ll talk about that “pet.” “Oh,” they’ll say. “It’s that gay activist again.” Or, “It’s that black activist again.” Or, “it’s that feminist again.”

When we allow our “pet issue” to be the identifying point of our community involvement, then we’ve done the very thing that prevents us from accomplishing anything: we’ve fed the stereotypes.

I really do think there’s a place for leading figures in different causes. But when it comes to a systemic movement, we’ve got to have a broader focus. For those of us who are GLBT, we’ve got to realize that is involvement IN our communities that matter. Far too often, we want to work against our local communities. In doing so, we’ve missed countless opportunities to really make a solid impact.

What are some things we can do to get involved? It’s really not that difficult. Look around you. Does a street need to be repaved? Is there an artists’ society in your area? How about a civic group? The reality is that if no one sees us outside the “gay” world, then we’ll rarely, if ever, have a chance to do anything positive.

When we’re able to rise up out of what is essentially a ghetto mentality (gay-this, lesbian-that), then we’ll be able to do something that is critical: We’ll be able to lead by example. I submit that it’s then that we’re no longer a threat to the status quo, but rather seen as an asset for progress.

Our young people are looking to us for leadership and have been let down time and time again. I’ve asked before if there are any real spokesmen (or spokeswomen) for the GLBT community that are not in the entertainment arena. So far, they’re few and far between. And please, don’t mention Jim McGreevey. I’m sorry, but someone who “courageously” comes out after being threatened with a lawsuit is not “courageous” at all. Especially since it was his corruption that cost him his job, not his sexual orientation. That’s not leadership at all. It’s just another politician who got burned at his own game.

We need role models. We need leaders. We need people who’ll stand up and work together with everyone around them, whether they’re gay or not. Let’s leave our “pets” outside, and start working with our neighbors to build better communities for everyone.

Of course, we need to walk our “pets” from time to time. They’re a part of our lives. But let’s leave them where they need to be, and not take them everywhere we go. Then, it becomes far more than a “pet.” It becomes an obsession.

Then, when we’ve got the respect of our peers, we can present the issues that are close to our hearts. We can bring them into fruition effectively, and everyone wins.

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