Complacency is a luxury LGBTQ people and their allies cannot afford. That is the message from the new Mr. Gay World, New Zealand's Chris Olwage. DNA Magazine (#167) asked Olwage, newly crowned this past August in Antwerp, Belgium, "What do you think is the biggest issue facing the gay community today?" Wading into the international debate over LGBTQ equality, the 27-year-old insisted that no one in the queer community may sit back and enjoy the triumphs of recent years--not yet. "When we take for granted the freedoms we have; when we forget the pains of those who paid their dues for our sakes, we forget how easily it can all come undone," he said. Citing the oppression of gays and lesbians in the Russian Federation, Olwage believes that complacency has led many to ignore "the struggles of our foreign brothers and sisters who still live in places where they can be put to death, fined or imprisoned for being gay. It is our job to help them, too."
I was thrilled by the news from Utah, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Virginia detailing how swiftly legal challenges to state bans against marriage equality are meeting with success. Same-sex marriage seems to be an idea whose time has come in these United States, though there is no guarantee that the Supreme Court will strike down discrimination against same-sex couples seeking the right to marry throughout the nation anytime soon. But marriage decisions seem to have taken all the oxygen out of the room from so many other vital struggles facing LGBTQ people at home and abroad, as Olwage suggests.
What about ENDA and the fight for employment protection? The host of dangerous inequalities oppressing transgender and gender variant Americans every day? The relentless uptick in physical violence against LGBTQ people in places that queer people were supposed to be "safe"--Washington State, New York City, San Diego, and the Nation's capitol, to name but a few? The epidemic of LGBTQ teen suicides still raging in schools throughout the nation? Not to mention the outrageous exportation of anti-gay bigotry abroad by domestic right wing religious extremists in Uganda, Nigeria, South Korea, Belize, and elsewhere?
Yes, much is undeniably better than it used to be. But when LGBTQ people and allies become lotus eaters rather than champions for other people, do we not risk losing the hard won liberties we now celebrate? Have we so easily forgotten that the fates of African Americans, women, the poor and disabled, and immigrants are inextricably tied to the futures queer folk want for themselves? So-called "Pride Parades" have become commercial displays for corporations hawking their wares. Ol' easy chair has lulled so many of us into believing that "progress is inevitable," or some such unsupportable fantasy, and we all too readily become comfortable isolationists when it comes to the ongoing struggle for justice taking place all around us. Can we afford just to sit on the sidelines and leave the risk and reward of the fight to someone else?
It took a Kiwi like Chris Olwage to awaken me to work we still have to do. As Mr. Gay World 2013 says, "When we can all be free then we can rest, but until then we must pay our dues as those who paid their dues for our current liberties." Right you are, Chris! Thanks for reminding us that there is so much to do until justice comes for all.