Darian Aaron: Activism 2.0; Out front, out loud, online

“We all have a voice, it’s just up to us individually whether or not we choose to utilize it.”

I’ll never forget that advice or the person who gave it to me. It’s not by accident that the first time my thoughts were ever published or the moment I decided to use my voice involved activist and author Keith Boykin. “It All Started with Keith,” was the headline I wrote on the morning of May 25, 2006, on “Living Out Loud with Darian” (loldarian.blogspot.com), an LGBT news and social commentary blog I ran until 2011. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing in the beginning or how each published post would impact my life and the lives of those reading. I did know that much of the LGBT content I read online at the time appeared to have little to no interest in reflecting life as I experienced it. There was a void. So I started writing, and I’ve never stopped.

In hindsight, that has always been my modus operandi: don’t wait for others to do what you’re more than capable of doing. Stand up and speak out, now. I have no doubt that with every word I typed my subconscious was whispering, actually more so shouting these exact words of encouragement, especially on days when my spirit was depleted and my intentions were questioned. I was becoming a “digital activist,” and I quickly discovered that activism in its various capacities comes with a price.

I wasn’t warned about the necessity of exercising self-care in the midst of struggle or else risk burning out prematurely. I must have walked away from my digital activism at least a half dozen times over the five years my blog was fully active.

The personal self-doubt and the questions from critics were at times so similar it was hard to decipher the true opposition. Who do you think you are? What are you trying to prove? Those questions lived in my inbox and often came from the very group of people I was committed to uplifting through my work. That was a hard pill to swallow, but I had to continue. After all, I was absolutely clear that it wasn’t about me, but about the unknown same-gender-loving person receiving the message that his life was affirmed and worthy to be celebrated and not denigrated.

I’d almost convinced myself that I no longer needed the same affirmation until all of those unknown unique visitors began to have names and stories of their own.

“I think your celebration of love is truly radical and the beginning—or perhaps continuation—of an essential change. Thank you,” a reader wrote in 2011 after the release of my coffee table book highlighting same-gender loving couples in long-term relationships.

“Darian, you speak for people who have no voice, have had their voices stolen, have given their voices away, have lost their voice, and/or have not found their voice. This is why YOUR voice is so important,” another reader wrote in 2006.

It’s funny how inspiration is a two-way street. While some in the community were working diligently to derail my efforts, there were twice as many who were inspired and inspired me in the process. The writer of the last quote was the late Atlanta gay minister and activist Paris Eley. God, I miss him. But it’s through his life and the example set by others such as Boykin, E.Lynn Harris and Atlanta activists Craig Washington and Darlene Hudson that I mustered up the courage to live out loud. And it all started with the turn of a page or the click of a mouse. I know the written word is powerful and I’ll argue anyone down who thinks otherwise. It gave me purpose and allowed me to say that black lives, black LGBT lives and lives of all colors mattered long before the creation of the hashtag, and for that I’m grateful.