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Getting Back in the Activism Game

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I'll admit it: I stopped being an activist for the LGBT community, not because my personal or political beliefs changed, but for the same reason that someone who's worked at an ice cream parlor for years eventually can't stomach another scoop.

For three years I was the Arts and Entertainment Editor for The Advocate, the 40-plus-year-old publication known for being the magazine of record for the LGBT activist community. They were three very intense years that saw the joyous legalization of gay marriage in California, the election of Obama, the rapid succession of high-profile celebrity comings out that started with brave people like T.R. Knight, and the crushing end of legalized gay marriage in California.

I marched on the Mormon temple in Westwood after Proposition 8 passed. I wrote very public op-eds promoting equal rights using my ideally private life. I argued and strategized with colleagues, both gay and straight, about how best to serve the needs of our community. By its nature, my career became my life; for three years, most every moment of my every day went, in some way, to furthering the betterment of our LGBT community.

By the time I stopped working at The Advocate, I couldn't face another parade, march, essay or event. I was exhausted. The only gay thing I wanted to focus on was my boyfriend. Other issues evoked my passion, in particular my interest in the environment and advancements in "green technology," which led me to co-founding my current company.

My boyfriend would get upset over news of setbacks to LGBT issues, rant about homophobic behavior both in our private world and at large, and then get exasperated with me because I had relaxed into a more Zen attitude, trusting that time would see us win equal rights.

"Don't you care?" he'd fume. "Why aren't you angry about this?"

"Of course I care. I'm just not letting it keep me from enjoying the Real Housewives. Now shush."

I became a grateful spectator of others, like Chad Griffin and Tammy Baldwin, who continued to fight my fight while I focused on compostable cups and cutlery for the next few years.

So it was with some surprise that I found myself agreeing to join the board of the Don Thompson Film Festival taking place this weekend at the University of Southern California. While not exactly a dramatic leap into activism, being a board member of a small LGBT film festival was definitely a return to a world I'd ceased to be so publicly a part of. What can I say? I was charmed. I am a USC alumnus, so there's that, but more important to me was the fact that the festival gives talented filmmakers the opportunity to be seen by industry veterans, and the fact that the intimacy of the event promotes feedback and encouragement unlike any other LGBT film festivals I've been to.

The festival was founded five years ago by the USC LGBT Alumni Association with the mission to showcase and encourage the work of current and graduated students making films about the queer experience. It's judged by a panel of experts; this year's panel includes Randall Kleiser (director of Grease and Blue Lagoon), Neal Broverman (Managing Editor of The Advocate), Tina Mabry (director of Mississippi Damned), Jason Clodfelter (Senior Vice President of U.S. Drama Development and Programming at Sony Pictures Television) and Glenne McElhinney (director of the LGBT documentary On the Shoulders We Stand).

While watching the films and making choices about what we'd screen, I was surprised by two things: the evolution of themes that has taken place since I was on the jury of Outfest four years ago, and the fact that I'd forgotten how important this work is.

Residing in liberal Los Angeles, I've lived in a very "post-gay" world these last few years -- not taking it for granted, but vacationing from the reality of how much work there still is to do for the betterment of the LGBT community.

I must say that I was reinvigorated by our community's up-and-coming filmmakers and their passion, compulsion, complexity and sincerity. Through their visions I'm reminded that hearing these voices, even in small venues like this festival, is a vital part of our greater community; in supporting them, we're supporting ourselves.

It's not activism on a large scale like I practiced in the past, but in helping find raffle prizes, recruiting jury members, watching hours of film footage and engaging in any number of small, seemingly insignificant acts I've found myself doing for the festival, I'm happy to be back in the activism community, even if it just means punching its tickets.

We can't all be editors or politicians, and we can't all afford the time and sacrifice it takes to be on the front lines of the battle for equality. Thankfully we're provided with little ways to promote a better tomorrow; it can be as simple as going to the movies and supporting our brothers and sisters.

And hey! Popcorn!