If only folks from the United States could be like our companions from down under.
GetUp, a national grassroots movement in Australia advocating social justice in addition to numerous other issues, recently put out a roughly two-minute advertisement designed to tug at the heartstrings of the world, portraying what same-sex marriage really represents in an every day sense.
The ad takes viewers on a visual journey through the ordinary but omnipresent joys and struggles of life, all the way from jovial vacations on the beach to the somber, devastating deathbed of a parent. For the duration of the video, however, audiences are left in the dark as to who the tall, dark and handsome Aussie man is experiencing life with. Naturally, the answer is obvious before ever being revealed for any gay who has spent a lifetime with a partner in silence or simply paid attention to advocacy ads in the past, but what about someone who has remained blissfully unaware of the presence of gay men and women?
The video is, strangely, all-at-once sobering and equally overwhelming. It is fascinating that such a simple message could strike such a strong chord with the soul, and equally fascinating that an ad about the seemingly monotonous aspects of life thrown into a video with two gay men could garner more attention than the countless political speeches and sound bytes projected to the world during the past few years.
Could it be possible that the GLBT movement has been expressing its message the wrong way this entire time?
I recently spoke with an elderly gay man who told a similarly heartwarming story about his life endurances as a marginalized human being. He spoke of his wife, his stage of denial and of the tragedy that was the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the 1980s, a particular devastation so widespread and heartbreaking that those my age, admittedly, cannot fathom the severity of its long-term impacts.
It is these types of humanizing tales, it seems, that serve as the real “sword and shield” of the GLBT fight for equal rights. While rhetoric regarding legal obligations and sensibilities is very much valid, it doesn’t seem to strike with the same sort of effectiveness that a relatable, empathetic story does that may animate and illuminate for heterosexual citizens and politicians the black-and-white still images that seem to exist in their minds.
The current public message from the mass GLBT movement attempts to appeal to the sensibilities of Americans rather than their heart. But at the risk of sounding like a Bill Maher worshipper, Americans just aren’t smart enough to recognize a gross injustice that doesn’t affect their everyday life and daily consumption. Americans, unfortunately, are more likely to throw out a stereotype as a scapegoat for why they are justified in doing absolutely nothing.
One might think, however, that an attempted connection to the fact that GLBT community members are real, wholesome, “just like mom and pop” individuals, just might stand to make a more promising impact on the climate of how gays are perceived. Once upon a time, a minority of the population honestly believed they didn’t know anyone who was gay. Today visibility is much better, but recognition of existence is still a whole lot different than recognition of worthiness as equal human beings.
As a gay man myself, I am very grateful for the conditions of the society I was born into. I appreciate that I can walk down the streets of the Gayborhood and have minimalistic worries about my safety and target potential. I am humbled by the brave GLBT men and women of yesteryear who aren’t afraid to stand up and tell their stories for the betterment of my generation and those to follow. And perhaps most monumental, I am genuinely hopeful for the potential to have a wedding moment of my own one day without questions lingering in the back of my mind about the legality and “legitimacy” of my union.
A touching, viral video is but one small step toward the finish line, but it is a step nonetheless. One can only hope that the “big whig,” influential figures behind the scenes of the modern GLBT movement will see the impact of a simple story and find themselves enlightened with realization that acceptance must first come through the soul, and not the ballot-casting tendencies of a constituency.
Brandon Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.