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Speak up! Your community is listening

Events like the Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast always seem to inspire me. It’s easy for an activist to get burnt out, but being in a room with hundreds of other passionate people who care just as much about equality as I do, helped reignite any burned out flames I might have had (and I’m told my flames often burn a bit brighter).

When I got home from the breakfast and logged onto Facebook, a friend IM’d me to ask how San Diego’s second annual breakfast was. I told him that it was inspiring, well organized, and the light food was good.

He then asked me if it was just a “platform for the same old community leaders to tell us the same old stuff to promote their same old agenda.” He proceeded to name some names and many of the people he named were on the stage at breakfast.

This got me thinking about who our leaders are in the local LGBT community and why they are considered "community leaders."

I frequently hear people complaining about certain people in our community who seem to always win awards, or be regularly covered in our media, or speak at community events. I’m not going to act naive and pretend like I don’t know who and what my friend is talking about.

Absolutely, there are people in our community who get more attention than others and I suppose it’s rightly so. Whether or not we feel it is justified, these people are the ones who are taking the time and getting involved with the community. They have stepped up, attended meetings and worked their way onto the agenda for the programs, or got their quotes into the media.

I agree that some media could do a better job of reaching out to others in the community to get a more diverse set of voices from time to time, but we can’t say that the people we “always” hear about aren’t doing anything. But I didn’t intend to go on about that today.

The real point of all this is to encourage members of our community to speak out! If you tell our institutions, organizations, ‘community leaders’ and businesses what you want to see or who you want to hear from, they will eventually have to listen.

I believe there is a hugely silent majority in our community that has the great energy, passion and potential needed to be involved in our community. They patronize LGBT establishments, participate in some community events, organizations and groups, and stay connected to the community by reading LGBT news and having conversations with others they associate with. These conversations often turn into gossip and complaining about various people, events, and organizations in the community; and that is perfectly OK.

But I want to encourage these people to take a step beyond the gossip at Starbucks and turn it into healthy dialogue with the people who make the decisions in our community. If enough people told The Center that they wanted to hear from certain types of speakers at the Milk Breakfast, or its annual gala, The Center’s board and staff would have to listen.

Some organizations, such as San Diego LGBT Pride, actively seek out community input. For the last couple months, Pride has been hosting monthly Town Hall meetings to gather community feedback. Numbers have been dwindling at these meetings, but the board and staff of Pride are there each month ready to hear what the average community members have to say about our community’s signature event.

It is hard for our community’s leaders to know what everyone wants. People who run organizations and plan community events typically work very hard to make sure everyone is served, accommodated and entertained. But it really is hard to please everyone – so tell them!

Last week I encouraged you to step up to the plate and get involved, this week I’m encouraging you to speak up! Next time you want to complain about something (after the fact), stop for a minute and think to yourself, did I have the opportunity to speak up about this before it happened? Then lodge your complaint!

Be loud, be proud, be annoying, be “that guy”!

Ben Cartwright is SDGLN's Higher Education & Nonprofit Liaison and has been a campus and community activist in San Diego for over 10-years. His community involvement began as a student at SDSU and from there he launched into a number of other community activities. He has written for a number of local publications including Update, Hillquest, and GLT. Cartwright won the Lambda Archive's 2007 "Community Hero Award"; 2008 Nicky Award for "Outstanding Community Activist"; and a 2009 Nicky Award for "Outstanding Writer/Columnist".