Should I be preparing to work in the the LGBT rights movement after graduation? Should you?
Same-sex marriage is an extremely salient national political issue, a idea that would have been unthinkable just a decade ago. Enormous strides are being made in particular issue areas, such as gender identity protections and Pres. Obama's executive order directing hosipitals to allow visits by same-sex partners (a measure that is long overdue). Major legislation that the LGBT community has been pushing for years, such a the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell," is finally on the verge of passage. By all accounts, it is an extremely significant and vibrant moment in the history of the LGBT rights movement.
And yet, I feel extremely conflicted towards the LGBT movement establishment and question whether I want to make a career out of LGBT advocacy.
Before coming to Princeton, I was Director of Louisiana's statewide LGBT advocacy organization, the Forum For Equality. It was an amazing and challenging experience -- as one might expect, there are a unique set of priorities and obstacles for the movement in the American South. I am incredibly proud of my work at the Forum, and it seems natural for me to return to this type of work upon graduation.
But when I think of returning to work for LGBT issues, I wonder what is motivating me. Is it a sense of guilt or obligation? Should smart young gay people who are interested in politics feel as if they "must" work for LGBT rights? The LGBT community is a small minority, and those with elite educations are an even smaller minority. Who am I to turn my back on the movement that has allowed me to be who I am?
On the other hand (and this relates to my previous post), isn't it a bit untoward or selfish to dedicate my career to something that directly affects my own well-being? Others in my public policy program are preparing for careers in African development, learning about and advocating for important issues that have no direct impact on their own lives. One of the fundamental characteristics of Third Sector work is the sense of altruism. My classmates have incredible experiences helping strangers while I am, essentially, fighting for a better life for my own community.
Political advocacy has also polarized me and significantly colored my worldview. A few weeks ago, a friend who had recently come out described the process as a personal journey, and said we should not judge those politicians and other prominent individuals who remain closeted, as long as they are supporting our rights. I found myself making a general statement about how it's each gay person's "civic duty" to come out (I actually used those words) and I felt no sense of tragedy for figures like Ted Haggard or Roy Ashburn-- only scorn.
Sometimes I just want to withdraw from political advocacy and join those people -- a clear majority -- who live their lives, don't trouble themselves with the day-to-day political news cycle, and think about these issues maybe once every couple of years when they vote... if that!
But maybe that would be the truly selfish decision.