If you read LGBTQ+ media sources, you’ll probably have seen several variations of this simple idea: being openly LGBTQ+ is an act of defiance. It’s supposed to mean that just by being yourself, you are defying the conservatives and right wingers — Clarence Thomas, Ron DeSantis, and the like — who are trying to put people like you back in the closet. It’s supposed to mean that even if you do nothing else but be an open LGBTQ+ person, you are still an activist and are creating change.
In 2023, that is not enough. Being openly LGBTQ+ is great and important, but if we’re talking about ways to improve the lives of the LGBTQ+ community and defend it against those who seek to do us harm, then we need to do more than just live life openly.
If you want to create change, if you want to push back against the cultural wave that Republicans are riding, you have to do more than just be openly LGBTQ+. Fifty years ago, when there weren’t many openly LGBTQ+ people, coming out was, indeed, a radical act that could spur change within a family, a community or an entire culture. The first gay person on television, the first lesbian cover story in a magazine, the first same-sex kiss in a movie, all of those things were groundbreaking and important. But people seem to forget that those actions happened alongside myriad other actions. The faces of the LGBTQ+ community were supported by those doing the grassroots work in politics, business, entertainment and other industries. Those people understood that being LGBTQ+ was the starting point, not the ending.
In 2023, we need more than representation. We need fundraising for organizations that support us, we need people to run for elected office (including school boards!), and we need people to not just believe bigotry is wrong, but to actively confront it when they see it. We need all that and numerous other necessary actions.
Living life openly as LGBTQ+ people is still important. And in communities where openly LGBTQ+ people are rare, those who live out, loud and proud are doing important work locally. But if we are going to combat the oppression we’re facing on various fronts, then we need to bring our efforts beyond our own identity and expression.
This is also why people continually stress the idea that Pride should not be limited to one month a year. Not only is it about living openly the other 11 months, but it’s about the grinding, daily work that happens when stores aren’t decked out in rainbows and politicians aren’t lauding us on Twitter. It’s that behind-the-scenes work that truly gets us gains politically and culturally. Marching in a Pride parade is great, but it’s not going to reverse bigotry. In fact, as we’ve seen this year and many before, marching in a Pride parade is just the beginning. If you really want to see change happen, the work has to be done after the parade ends.
So here’s a challenge to every LGBTQ+ person and ally: Next year, when you post or share a Pride message on social media, think about what tangible actions you can take to help the community that go beyond your profile page. Then, do it. Your online presence — as nice as it is — must be accompanied by offline activism. That’s the only way to keep LGBTQ+ equality moving forward.