Recently, I was able to be a part of a movement that resulted in an amendment to the Macon-Bibb Charter and Code of Ordinances that now prohibits discrimination in public employment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. We marched and rallied together in parks, crowded out the county commission chamber and worked with our local representatives to make a change. Although middle Georgia has a long road ahead in the fight for equality, the only prerequisite to our efforts was that we wanted change. It was a group effort, bound by love of each other.
After graduating from college, I set my sights on Atlanta. I thought relocating my base could present a larger field of opportunities to make a difference, but I soon found myself navigating an exhausting social scene mired in superficiality and privilege. More and more, I ended up at events in the name of queer liberation that felt more like a poorly veiled excuse to network with pretty white masc gay men over cocktails. The only way to garner any attention was to talk about my education or past successes. Immediately, I began to miss the heart of the movement I felt in Macon where people recognized that lives are at stake; where significant progress was made and laws were changed. I didn’t have to stroke any egos, nor did I have to present myself in a suit.
Although Atlanta may be more progressive than its counterparts throughout the state, the queer community is still plagued with the same societal ills that we claim to fight. Why is it that our black and brown trans family members have historically been the leaders of queer liberation, but are still the last ones to receive any credit or opportunities? Why are those without the backing and support of significant financial assets barricaded from leadership in advocacy and political platforms?
The integration of queer culture into our current political environment and market economy has resulted in our identities being exchanged for social mobility. Even more prevalent in larger cities, the homogenization of queer culture is manifested in the promotion of the hypersexualized ideal gay male that looks no different than the heteronormative model. By recreating the same barriers that exist in society-at-large, the integrity in our movement has become questionable.
Systemic oppression of insular minorities functions like a social virus. It weakens our communities by disabling and killing the people who have the largest stake in our fight for survival. It constantly mutates as it spreads from one to another, finding new ways to infect what could have thrived. In our fight for equality, we cannot let this continue. We have to speak truth into power. We have to constantly check our motives and intentions for action. We have to consistently measure our passion with consideration for those who fought long before us.
So then, what shall we do? Whenever it comes time for a voice to be heard, lift and empower those whose words have been silenced. Whenever you begin to feel defensive, recognize that your worldview is being challenged and listen. Whenever you see people’s rights being ignored, give them your full attention. If you’re quoting Maxine Waters, but fail to stand for black lives – you’re doing it wrong.
Bentley Hudgins is a recent transplant to Atlanta from Macon, Georgia. He holds a degree in philosophy from Mercer University, with research in bioethics and policy.