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Creating change in the world begins at my front door

Last week, I had the opportunity to organize and speak on a LGBTQ education panel at a local high school. I put together a group of amazing friends and activists who joined me to share our stories about being lesbian, gay, transgender and queer people (my bisexual friend had an emergency and didn’t make it).

Other than my drag queen friend pulling out her real-looking silicone breast (it even had a nipple!) in response to a student’s question about what her breasts were made out of, all went well.

A fairly typical question asked of us at these panels is “Have you ever been discriminated against?”

We each answered the question individually, most of us saying that we really hadn’t experienced any overt discrimination in things like housing, employment, or other areas, but had experienced several acts of hate. I shared my not so fond memories of the 1999 San Diego Pride Parade tear gas incident; being chased by a group of anti-gay thugs through Balboa Park on New Year's Eve 2005; and being egged outside of Hillcrest coffee shops and night spots.

What dawned on me after speaking on this panel was how much hate we perpetuate on ourselves. We are pretty darn nasty to each other sometimes. I will put the disclaimer out there up front that I, too, have not always been the nicest person in the world to my fellow gays, so I am not exempt from what I write about today. We call each other names, we label each other, we exclude each other, and sometimes let our hormones overcome our brains.

We all know that San Diego’s gay community is fairly small. Everyone seems to know everyone, or at least be connected in some way. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it can create a sense of community and make it easier to rally together in times of need. Unfortunately, it sometimes seems like we are living in a high school world with all of the labels, groups and cliques that can be formed.

The other day, I chuckled at a friend who was telling to me about a party he went to with the “San Diego A-List Gays.” I asked him who these “A-List Gays” were, assuming he would name people like our gay city councilmembers, civic leaders and philanthropists.

Instead he just named off a dozen or so people I have seen around the bars that have no real connection to anything. I asked why these people were on this “A-List,” who is the keeper of this list and how can I get on it. He, of course, had no answer for me and called me "bitter."

It is these types of perceived groups and exclusions that cause division in our community - and that is not what we need as we continue to struggle for equality.

We love to label each other in not such nice ways. I have been with groups of friends and others many times as they point out the “whores,” the people with HIV and the ugly people.

I like to ask these people exactly what constitutes a “whore.”

I recall one friend telling me about his week-long sexscapade (he had sex with nine different guys in a week’s time), but then proceeded to point out three people at Rich’s one night that he deemed a “whore.” I asked him what made them any “sluttier” than him and he had no response. We all enjoy sex, right? 

People with HIV, “ugly” people, homeless people and people of color are all people. I am disgusted by those who speak desparagingly about our friends living with HIV and find racism to be the ugliest of evils.

A gay and homeless friend of mine told me that he feels like he is the most invisible part of the community – he is regularly made fun of or completely ignored by gays who pass by him on the streets of Hillcrest.

Beauty is only skin deep, no one is ugly and it is not up to us judge a person by their looks. But we make these judgments all the time.

Finally, I have seen so many friendships dissipate because of our overly incessant need to have sex.

Friends having sex with friends’ partners, crushes and boyfriends can be heartbreaking. In the heat of the moment, we often forget about the consequences this brief encounter will have. Is one night of sex with a friend’s boyfriend or crush really worth losing the bond of friendship? There are so many other fish in the sea, find your own man!

The point of all this is to just remember to be good to each other. We are a small community and need each other. We have a pretty big battle to fight out there and we need to be content with ourselves before we can stand strong against the evils of homophobia.

Now... how do I get on that A-List?

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".