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Emotional Responses January 27, 2009

Posted by cellardoor10 in Uncategorized.
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What kind of emotional response is necessary to activate students to think about queer, homeless youth?  Most students are neither queer nor homeless, so where is the appeal?  I have been grappling with the idea of who we can recruit to help in our movement.  We have discussed the idea of Carleton as an apathetic campus.  Students are busy, the weather is cold, there are too many groups fighting for attention and participation – how can we find a niche for such a specific issue that is so difficult to combat from where we sit?  Yes, we can organize a volunteer day, push legislation and raise awareness, but somehow it feels hollow coming from (mostly) white, straight, upper middle-class, educated people.  I believe in the cause, there is no question about that, but it is hard to envision a lasting movement or interest evolving out of this.  The GSC already does so much, and they are still working on expanding to be inclusive and educational about the “T” in LGBTA.  There is honestly an epidemic of homelessness among queer youth, but it feels difficult to comprehend when I feel so insulated.

It feels like a problem that can only be addressed with systemic, societal change, with an LGBT movement that doesn’t just work for middle-aged, middle-class white gay men, but one that works for young genderqueer, lesbian, or bisexual people of all colors and backgrounds.  This is certainly not the movement that exists today.  The fight for marriage equality, while I support it wholeheartedly, is clearly an elitist movement.  Who can worry about marriage when the only source of food is the money you get from prostitution in the bushes, or you are freezing in -20 degree weather?

My point is not to dishearten or reduce feelings of efficacy, only to raise my own personal doubts about how we can enact some form of change.  I do believe that if we are successful in our three events that we hope to put on, that we will be able to make some small contribution.  However, the more I look critically at the issues we’re addressing and the issues being addressed by large mainstream LGBT rights organizations, I find a failing to address the LGBT future – the young people who need support.  Yes, many people need the supports of legal hospital visitation rights or adoption rights, etc., but that seems to pale in comparison to the issues of shelter, food, and the most basic kind of love and support.  Grassroots organizations are the ones doing this, not the large conglomerate coalitions.

But to return to my original topic, I believe we will have to illustrate to people that those young queer kids on the streets could be them.  Your parents don’t like your major?  your significant other? your religious/political beliefs? your friends?  All those are essentially analogous to being kicked out of the house for being gay.  In fact, many of those are easier to hide or change than sexuality.  That’s the angle I think we must use – think of their lost opportunities!  All we ask to help the kids who should be your peers is that you write a letter, attend a talk, and give up part of a Saturday in order to really understand what these kids, who are often your age or your sibling’s age, need in the form of support.  I don’t think fear is the right emotion – perhaps outrage at the lack of support they receive.  Outrage will motivate the legislation drive, I think, while compassion will motivate those who volunteer at the shelter.

We can trigger outrage by providing an enemy to blame – the systemic mistreatment of queer youth by families, religious groups, and even other homeless people.  This seems vague and huge, so the unfortunate side effect might be a lowering of political efficacy – when the fight is too big, one feels very small.  We can trigger compassion by tugging at heartstrings – pictures and stories of youth who chose to freeze to death rather than endure hostile shelter environments, kids with futures who were rejected by their parents and driven to subsistence prostitution, etc., etc.  Ignoring people who may categorically hate queer people, no matter their age, plight, or situation (few of which seem to exist at Carleton, our main target community), the emotion of compassion shouldn’t be hard to evoke.  The challenge will be to make sure students feel empowered to help.  We have to educate and motivate, and then present opportunities to channel that.  Without that ability to package those events like this, we will be unable to garner a decent turnout for either of our action-oriented events.



1. jjigour - January 27, 2009

“We have to educate and motivate, and then present opportunities to channel that. ”

Yes! We most certainty do.

~ Jenny

2. DG - January 28, 2009

Your post raises quite an interesting question of how you create a sense of buy-in and commitment from a potential audience when it could be easy to see an issue concerning others “not like me.” It’s the difficulty inherent in thinking about classically post-materialist movements: how do you get people to care about others when it’s not their own well-being at stake.

I think the angle that you’re thinking about — personalizing the issue by asking about whether they’ve encountered some degree of resistance or rejection based on some other part of their identities — is an interesting idea to explore further. I also think that you will want to think a bit more on the attribution of blame point. Systemic injustices and failures are part of the problem, but unlikely to galvanize a big emotional response.

Final point:I’m very much intrigued by your reflections on the priorities of the larger GLBT organizations and your characterization of them being more “elite” in focus. Do you think this is a tactical/strategic choice? Who gets input into what does and does not get on the agenda? Is this a case of groups dividing the territory and finding specialized niches for themselves in terms of issues, or is there more active winnowing of the agenda by those who have more resources and visibility?

Anyway, am enjoying reading your thoughts and reflections!

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