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Oct 20 2011

Purple?

I’m sorry; I didn’t wear purple today,
But I have to say, in fairness—
I’m not opposed at all to gay rights;
I’m opposed to “raising awareness”
I’ll speak my mind; I’ll teach my class;
I’ll probably reach a few;
But tell me… “raising awareness”—
What, exactly, does it do?
Some homophobic moron
Could be very much “aware”
He knows that he discriminates
And proudly does not care
“Awareness” is a fiction
Roughly on a par with “prayer”
Petitioning an entity
That isn’t even there.
I will not dress in purple
(even though it sounds like fun)
I will not raise awareness—
I would rather get things done.

Explanation, after the jump:

I just found out: today was “wear purple to raise awareness for gay rights” day. I hate that stuff. Not gay rights–I’ll let my record of writing make my case there–I celebrate same-sex marriage, slap down Sally Kern… ok, there is much more, but it’s not important, cos it’s not the point today. The point is, “raising awareness” is as useless as prayer; it’s a place-holder for actually doing something. It allows people to do next to nothing (wearing purple is not quite doing nothing) and still feel they have done their part. It’s the magnetic yellow ribbon on your SUV (watch it–beyond the intro, it gets better), it’s the cartoon avatar on facebook, it’s the lapel pin… It’s prayer. It’s doing an absolute minimum and feeling like you are on the side of the angels.

Fuck that.

Raising awareness is a piss-poor excuse for actually doing something. I don’t want to raise awareness about the pathetic funding of education, I want people to donate to Donors Choose and actually make a difference in some classrooms!

But I digress. I found out about the “wearing purple” bit from LZ Granderson on CNN.com I really like his writing, and I honestly don’t want to disagree with him here, because he is right. But damn, can’t we ask a bit more from people than to wear purple? There are candidates to support, petitions to sign, arguments to be made, people to be moved. This is an important issue, and this is an excellent time to do something about it. No excuses. No “what do you want from me? I wore purple!” If you want to feel good about yourself, feel good about yourself because you actually did something worth feeling good about. Not because you wore the purple shirt. (If memory serves, I’ve worn my purple shirt twice already this semester; why on earth would my students connect a third wearing with an actual cause?)

Ok, rant over. Other rant begins.

LZ Granderson is braver than I am. Take a look at the comments on CNN.com after his article. What a bunch of knuckle-dragging, drooling troglodytes! No, not all of them, but pinheads coming to his article to ask what sort of shirt to wear to show that they don’t support his rights. To write, for all to see, their idiotic opinion that he is worth less than they are, that his desire for the same rights they take for granted is some plea for “special rights”.

I am fortunate, here. I have fantastic commenters. Intelligent, thoughtful, even those who disagree with me have thus far done so for perfectly good reasons. Granderson gets bullies and morons. But to his credit, there they are for all to see.

Edit: Please see this response to my post.

14 comments

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  1. 1
    Noadi

    Okay, I agree that wearing purple or anything like that is useless but I disagree on raising awareness being useless, especially in regards to gay rights. Here’s why:

    A few decades ago the majority of people in this country thought homosexuality should be illegal, only a small fraction of really extreme homophobes now think this.

    15 years ago the majority thought gays shouldn’t serve openly in the military, now despite the protests from the far right wing more than 70% of Americans supported the repeal of DADT.

    Marriage equality is now nearly a 50/50 split between those who support it and those who don’t and support is rising.

    None of those things could have happened without LGBT people and their allies raising awareness. Being out there proudly saying “here we are, we’re normal people, and we deserve equal rights”. The saying “familiarity breeds contempt” is the exact opposite of reality, we fear what we don’t know.

    Much of the progress that has been made has been people actively fighting for their rights, getting the laws changed and challenging discriminatory laws in court. However that doesn’t change people’s minds as well as knowing that your cousin, or coworker, or neighbor is gay or that your best friend or child is straight but supports equality because it’s the right thing to do.

  2. 2
    Cuttlefish

    Noadi–None of those things (and I agree those are tremendous progress from a deplorable start to a place where we still have much to do) could have happened without LGBT people and their allies actually doing things that matter. Bravely coming out and shattering stereotypes. Arguing in courts, classrooms and city halls for the same rights that their hetero peers had. “Raising awareness” is a terrible label that has been applied to Harvey Milk’s organized visibility campaigns to statewide battles over same-sex marriage, to the establishment of “safe zones” on campuses, to utterly (IMHO) useless facebook “like” memes or purple shirts. Some of these things worked (that is, had measurable results); some did nothing but allow the participants to feel like they did something. (oh, and if someone can show me that the facebook “like” campaigns or purple shirts actually made some sort of measurable difference, I will happily eat my words.)

    This is, I know you agree, too serious a matter to waste time on placebo protests when other actions have proven their worth. “Raising awareness” is far too fuzzy and useless a term. If you, for instance, wrote a moving letter to your state rep, and it actually made a difference, but you called it “raising awareness” instead of “writing my state rep”, then someone else might feel that their rainbow pin has the same effect as your letter. That person’s heart is in the right place, but their actions are ineffectual. If instead of fuzzy, feel-good terms like “raising awareness”, we call things what they actually are (writing letters, producing ads, wearing purple), then we can see which of these things actually make a difference. Which of these things have an effect.

    If we call all of it “raising awareness”, we lose information by linking useful actions with crap. And we don’t have the time nor energy to waste doing crap. Not when we can find actual effective actions to take.

    I agree with you entirely, with just one tiny difference: the things you say raised awareness, I would want to take out of that umbrella term, un-bundle from one another, so we could actually see which things worked and which things did not.

    And do the stuff that works.

  3. 3
    Pierce R. Butler

    The magniCuttlefish didn’t have a rhyme for “purple”?

    I’m… well, if I knew how to color comment text appropriately, I’d say I was (imagine it, please) xxxxxx’d.

  4. 4
    Erin

    I agree that wearing purple one day a year is no substitute for taking other actions to support rights for queer people, but I wouldn’t say it’s completely useless, either. It’s a visual way of letting the queer people around you know that there are people who support us, and that you’re unlikely to react negatively if we come out to you. It has its drawbacks (that people might be wearing purple by coincidence, for example, as you pointed out), and it’s not useful in every situation, but it could be good for morale in areas where there isn’t much vocal support for queer rights.
    I can’t speak for other queer people, but I feel safer being out around people with HRC bumper stickers than around people whose cars have bumper stickers for anti-gay candidates. You can’t tell if someone is homophobic just by looking at them, but there are ways that people can signal that they’re queer-friendly. Purple clothing on Spirit Day is one way of doing that.

  5. 5
    Kassiane

    Awareness is the No Child Left Behind of social justice education.

    The time for “awareness” is long past. Everyone at this point KNOWS that LGBTQ (and other different) kids are bullied. It’s time to make it absolutely crystal clear that shit will not be tolerated.

  6. 6
    george.w

    I agree that wearing purple on a Friday is a bit subtle, but that’s all. There certainly is a point to raising awareness – not so much of the issue itself but of my position on it.

    Bigotry gains strength and comfort from the perception that it is the default position. When I do something (hopefully not as subtle as wearing a certain color) to identify with the minority, it makes bigots aware that they’re not the only game in town. It won’t change their mind, but it pokes gaping holes in their sense of social approval. So raising their awareness of my position is worth doing.

    The same is true in reverse for the minority person. As an atheist I felt quite isolated and alone – better be careful! – until I found out a lot of people think as I do. It made a difference for me. Likewise I saw Dan Savage at our university recently, talking about his “It Gets Better” campaign, making a difference for GBLTQ people. Video is great but as individuals we can be walking Safe Zones too.

    But I have no criticism of people who wear purple either. Some people are just making their first tentative steps of support. Testing the waters of “coming out” for gender-identity equality, let’s say. Yes I hope they’ll do less subtle things in the future. Come on in, the water’s fine.

    Bigotry depends on maintaining a tight seal. I think of it as a society of people standing together, arms locked, against humanity. Then some people break loose and say; No! It’s definitely worth poking holes in it – big and small holes – and letting the humanity get through.

  7. 7
    Lauren Ipsum

    The problem is that if you don’t already know today is “wear purple for LGBTQ awareness day,” it won’t make a difference. All people will be aware of is that you’re wearing purple.

    If you actually want to raise awareness with a shirt or whatever, you need something a little blunter, like “It’s Okay To Be Takei,” or “It Gets Better” or “Silence=Death.”

  8. 8
    quantheory

    My understanding was that the day was intended to let closeted people know that there are people around them who support them, and to do so in a way that required minimal risk and effort from supporters (because the goal is participation and visibility rather than specific action). It’s a nice idea in theory; gay, isolated-feeling kid in Alabama goes to school and sees all these people wearing purple, and he likely knows what it’s about from the internet. Not sure if it really works that way in practice though.

  9. 9
    george.w

    If you actually want to raise awareness with a shirt or whatever, you need something a little blunter, like “It’s Okay To Be Takei,” or “It Gets Better” or “Silence=Death.”

    Yes – that would be my preference too. But not everyone’s an activist at heart and they may need baby steps to get started. Small moves can lead to discovery and bigger moves. Everybody’s got to start somewhere I guess. For my dough it’s OK to be purple.

  10. 10
    quantheory

    All things considered, though, the Day of Silence makes more sense because it shows more commitment and gains more attention. The GSA at my old high school used it to advertise when they first opened. They had cards with them explaining the idea, and they point out upcoming local legislation every year. (Unfortunately we’ve failed to get civil unions in Colorado twice now.)

  11. 11
    HP

    “It’s the magnetic yellow ribbon on your SUV…, it’s the cartoon avatar on facebook, it’s the lapel pin… It’s prayer.”

    Cue Cole Porter:

    That’s a prop,
    They’re just empty symbols.
    That’s a prop,
    Bought on sale at Gimbels.
    This is bills that fail, and a trip to jail, a flop!
    But if, Baby, this is action, that’s a prop!

  12. 12
    freemage

    I agree that the “wear X color” campaigns are ineffectual weaksauce. I had the same opinion when I heard about a couple of conservative attempts at a red shirt day or some crap like that. (um… I like the color red. I don’t want to have to worry that I’m allegedly supporting your hick group by wearing one of the 30% of my shirts that contain lots of red. Please fuck off and die in a fire. KTHXBAI!)

    Now, a more carefully targeted ‘raising awareness’ campaign CAN work. The symbol or slogan absolutely MUST be one that’s already recognized, however. Rainbow pin, or pink triangle, make a fairly definitive (if broad) statement of support that isn’t going to get overlooked.

    And above that, a slogan that’s tied to a current issue (say, a specific upcoming referendum vote) can be useful as a t-shirt logo. It keeps it in the front of people’s minds, and informs casual acquaintances that yes, they know someone for whom this is an important issue.

    But purple shirt day? Slacktivism at its most effective–which is to say, not at all.

  13. 13
    marisa

    Dear Cuttlefish,

    I love your poems, but I can’t agree with this one. As a gesture, I have written you a poem [here].

  14. 14
    Uncle Glenny

    About 20 years ago I was working in a satellite office of a fruity computer company. I was pretty much out to the (small number of) tech employees but that was it. I also, about this time, discovered (along with a friend) Queer Nation. (Nothing like being flown for business to go to San Francisco’s pride parade!)

    I discovered our stodgy, mundane, straight-laced area administrator used to go out dancing and partying with the gay boyz when she asked if anyone wanted to view the Names Project (AIDS) quilt which was on display nearby.

    So I went a little t-shirt crazy.

    When the local sales office downsized some we shared office space (same floor, different areas, completely different cultures) with them. We all had Friday lunch together, and one day I walked in wearing a Queer Planet t-shirt. The look on a couple of the faces was priceless, which by itself proves it was worthwhile.

    Now? Got me if it’s worth it, but it definitely was then. Back then the big thing was getting partner health insurance – sometimes even just non-discrimination language – from employers. Many of whom said things like they didn’t need it because they had no gay employees.

    (That non-discrimination language affected my choice of where I packed off to college in 1974.)

  1. 15
    Dear Cuttlefish: Purple? Yes purple. | Plots and Tracks

    [...] brings a smile to my face while pointing out the problems with religion and society. Unfortunately, the poem you wrote on October 20, 2011 replaced the smile on my face with an ache in my heart. As a response, I am going to attempt to [...]

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