Support, Safety Pins, and Alienating Allies

This weekend, I had the opportunity to be at a beautiful conference surrounded by friends and areers, old and new, which I needed dearly in light of the election having happened just days before. A few of the attendees decided to host a lunch-time gathering to discuss our concerns of the fallout that might be coming from how the election had gone, and how we can move forward in light of it. You see, the conference was richly populated by lesbian, gay, pansexual, and queer folks of a variety of ages, racial backgrounds, and gender expressions. We had transgender tribe amongst us, as well as cross-dressers, leather-folk, polyamorous families, fetishists, body-modification enthusiasts, and individuals whose sexuality or relationship styles played out beyond the lines of what the right-wing tends to deem acceptable.

No Human Being Is IllegalOur gathering also included our allies. Our blessed allies. White, cisgender, heterosexual, individuals who have been deemed “normal” and “safe” by a white-power mentality that has risen from the shadows. Fueled by populism and nationalism, a trend that is not new, but has come to the forefront of consciousness in the United States. Electing a president that has expressed views or made comments that we are supposed to pretend is okay now. Sexist, racist, anti-immigrant, ablest, and anti-Muslimism rhetoric has given permission to others to express these same views out loud, and spread waves of hate that escalate into terrifying storms of violence. Hate whose waves forms rip-tides at the shore, pulling our youngest citizens into the sea of that hate.

Fears fell from lips of how we might lose the ability to walk alone without experiencing violence simply because of who we love or the color of our skin, even in places we thought were safe. The ability to go to the bathroom in peace. Fears for same-sex marriages being split apart, or family-members who were “dreamers” being taken from the only country they had ever known. Fears of war around the world and concerns for global markets. Fears of what to tell our kids about what is happening, and whether to shield our children from what the president has to say… after all they have ever known of a president was a message of hope and acceptance. Fears for America’s soul.

Then, a voice from an older generation of queer experience spoke. They were afraid because this younger generation of beautiful queer beings don’t know how to hide. They have never had to hide their brilliance from the world. They are here, queer, and proud of it… and never known not to. They are the voices of trans children and teens. They are baby-dykes who grew up in liberal communities never having had much issues holding their girlfriends hand, and fabulously flaming high-schoolers who wore eyeliner just like their Covergirl role-model does.

They didn’t know how to hide. They hadn’t grown up to have to fear for beatings from strangers, or even the police. They didn’t know to spend time in gay bars only if those bars had back-doors. They had never had worry in those ways, and never learned to hide their glory, their power, their beauty, their shine. Remember, Stonewall was only
in 1969… not so long ago.

Silent tears fell. The box of Kleenex made its rounds.

Talk About RacismBut there were things we could do, today.

Action. That instead of quaking we could do something instead. Turn fear into fuel. Ideas came to the forefront like talking directly and appealing to your local and state representatives, attending city council meetings, and being seen. Become part of the political system yourself.

Participate in peaceful protest actions. Volunteer for organizations you believing them, and contributing financially as well. Be seen, heard, and share. Speak with love and compassion to those who are coming from their own journey in their expressions of uninformed and parroted hate.

Get educated and share quality information. Support each other. Send notes to those you care about to remind them they are not alone. Say so, and show so, to people who are being picked on. As allies who appear in the “normal” spectrum, stand alongside those who need support from hate and oppression. Self-care. Stay safe. Don’t dissolve into the hate yourself. Love.

#SafetyPin BasicsWear a safety pin.

After Brexit, hate-fueled violence in England rose notably. There was a fast escalation, and fast response and show of allyship for those who were experiencing such hate was needed. A way to tell people who were immigrants, Muslim, queer, transgender, or other attacked populations that you will support them. The safety pin is that symbol. It even has a hashtag – #safetypin.

But since it has come to America, the response has not really gone so well from some of those populations themselves. If you will not hide us when the police come, don’t do it, some say. If it makes you feel better, whatever, say others. It might be co-opted by white-supremacists themselves, say one circulating post. You’re making a fool of yourselves and don’t understand what allyship even means, posts one article.

Safe houses? That might sound apocalyptic, but for folks with family members were in camps, that fear is real. For some people, who do not have the privilege and ability to hide who they are because of the very nature of how they look – people of color, transgender folks who don’t “pass,” individuals with certain accents, butch dykes, fabulous fairies – this need for safety is already real. And when you add a storm that has already had waves hit the shore, it’s not apocalyptic.

Extensions of logic this continue based on those lived experiences. Concerns around food access and storing, places to go out-of-region if shit goes down. Brainstorming amongst some LGBT circles around how to get those who are not safe where they are, out of those places along a queer underground railroad. The logic can be followed… even if it may seem apocalyptic to some.

Safety Pin Senator Barbara LeeBut I argue that these allies are pinning a safety pin on are trying to do something. They want to start somewhere.

Though there will be people willing and able to step in front of a bullet (yes, one amazing butch this weekend powerfully and with love that she would do so for her LGBTQ tribe and beyond), others can sit quietly with a scared pair of cheerleaders who love each other that just want to talk. Perhaps a woman will sit down next to a Muslim woman who an asshole on the bus is picking on. Maybe a guy will take action by speaking up against hate when he’s delivering packages and he overhears a comment about immigrants. My hope is that these pins can let folks start somewhere, as a first step in the many steps they will take.

Symbols of allyship take two major forms. One is the hidden symbol – a symbol that only those in need have been told to look for that can communicate to those who need to know. One example is asking for “Angela” if things have gone wrong at a bar, and a woman needs to get away from her current situation.

ACLU #SafetyPinThe other is the out-loud symbol – a symbol of solidarity that says that the wearer believes in a specific cause or identity. The yellow on blue equal sign as a support for the Human Rights Coalition and their work for marriage equality. A pink ribbon to show support for breast cancer awareness and research. A red ribbon to signal support for HIV and AIDS awareness and research. An American flag pin to signal pride in being American.

The question becomes which is the safety pin supposed to signal? I believe that it the second, as well as a third – a reminder to the person that is wearing it, and other allies. Thus, having allies to issues of racism, sexism, bigotry, homophobia, islamophobia, and anti-immigrant sentiment, wearing a pin is a reminder to themselves and others that this issue matters to them, and that is a very useful thing indeed.

It is easy to see these pins and feel blasé, bitter, resentful, or angry about them. Trans women have been dragged out of bathrooms while people with pride flags stood by and did nothing. People of color have watched proclaimed white “allies” not speak up when their white friends say racist things… including allies like me. Undocumented immigrants have seen people try to look the other way when police come, homeless folks have people give them a dollar one day and walk over them the next, queer youth seen queer adults make snide remarks about the “way” they are queer. It’s easy to feel blasé, bitter, resentful, or angry seeing yet another time people can be let down by when someone who “showed” one thing, but “did” another.

I have felt those moments too. I, however, choose hope. I choose optimism. I choose not to throw the symbol out because some folks will let us down. Not all will. Many will surprise us. Many of our allies are amazing people who simply need an opportunity to start somewhere. To start doing something. Because doing nothing is unacceptable. And sometimes, symbols like these give people a chance to take their very first action, when they have never down anything before.

Basket of Safety Pins and MessageIn the movie Schindler’s List, Schindler did not begin the Nazi uprising planning on helping help so many. He noticed. He cared. He stood up when and how he could. He remembered that every action we can take matters.

Wear a safety pin if you are called to.

A safety pin cannot and does not make a difference in and of itself. A symbol does not replace action. Wearing a symbol, and doing nothing when things arise, actually just make a symbol a fashion accessory. And being an ally isn’t about expecting accolades, expecting kudos, or doing something to look cool. It’s about stepping up, however you are able to.

Let wearing it be a reminder to yourself and others that every action taken matters. That is the case whether you speak up from a place of compassion and logic, in a non-condescending way, in your workplace; sit down next to someone who is being shown intolerance and hate to show them and those who are being hateful that they are not alone; talk with someone who is scared; pass on quality, accurate, information; donate; volunteer; educate yourself; or find your way to not let hate rise up in your own little way. Or… help protect those who cannot protect themselves by any means necessary.

Let the pin on your clothes remind you that you want to be the sort of person who will step up and make a difference. That you will not stand by and be complacent. Let it be the string tied around your finger.

#SafetyPin PoemWith that said, my hope is that, if people are called to wear pins as a reminder to take action, we let people do it. There are better ways to spend our energy than fighting about a symbol.

We all need each other. We are spending our energy on shutting people down, rather than letting them be comforted by a symbol, and letting it be the first step, and a reminder to actually step up and do more than that too. Let us call people out when they show that their pin isn’t backed up with action, but for now, why not let it just be a pin. Some people, both who wear them, and see them, are comforted. If comfort leads to strength and reminding to take action – I’m all for it.

And, as someone may happen to “pass” as a white man at this moment, but also happens to be transgender (assigned female at birth), non-monotheistic, and sexually beyond societal norms, one of the people these symbols were intended to comfort and signal to, even if I am invisible in that experience… I am comforted by this. I consider it, as a transgender man, as a queer person, as someone who worries on a regular basis whether I will be found out in the bathroom and dragged out, beaten, or worse… I consider it comforting and useful.

Please allies, we need you. I need you.

This is not to beg. This is to remind you that none of us is alone. It takes everyone we can reach to help this world be a better place.

Consider as well the thoughts of Protestant pastor Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

***

Want to take action? Move beyond wearing only a symbol? Good! You should do that too! Look early on in the post for a list of great places to start. In addition, John Oliver has a great list of organizations at the end of his WONDERFUL summary of issues surrounding this election and what we can do in the face of it on his latest episode. Watch it. Some of them include the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Natural Resources Defense Council, International Refugees Assistance Project, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Center for Reproductive Rights, and The Trevor Project.

Also, don’t forget that what has happened is not normal. Don’t become complacent. Don’t just take action this week, this month… keep taking action. This is not a fad. This needs real action. Do the work… the pin is just a symbol, or more accurately, a fashion accessory, otherwise.

Vote. No, seriously, 46% of American’s didn’t this time around. Hold your legislators liable. Volunteer. Step up. Stay informed. Don’t expect the people you claim to be an ally of have to do it all for you – that is your job as an ally.

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Lee Harrington

Lee Harrington is an internationally known sexuality, relationships, and personal authenticity educator. Having taught in all 50 states and in 6 countries, he brings a combination of playful engagement and thoughtful academic dialogue to a broad audience. An award-winning author and editor on gender, sexual, and sacred experience, his books include “Traversing Gender: Understanding Transgender Journeys,” and "Sacred Kink: The Eightfold Paths of BDSM and Beyond," among many other titles. He has been blogging online since 1998, and been teaching worldwide since 2001. Welcome to his world, and your chance to expand your mind and heart alike.

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