“Camp Courage Sacramento was and inspirational and transformative weekend for me.”
Hearing that statement from a Camp Courage attendee is nothing new. However, for me, it carries an entirely different meaning as this was not my first Camp. After attending the Camp Courage in East LA and seeing a number of my friends share the experience with their families, I immediately ran home and signed up to come to the Camp in Sacramento with my Mom and Dad.
See, I grew up in Sacramento and moved to LA for college and have stayed there ever since. When I first came out to my parents, they were very supportive. However, I, like many young LGBT people was still either too nervous or too ashamed to fully share my life with them. It took me a good 3-4 years before I was comfortable enough with myself to share the details of my life, my cause, and my relationships with those I was close to. Slowly, that changed for me as I started to fight for LGBT rights and that shame dissipated. The result is that I am now as closer to my family than I have ever been and the culmination of this was bringing my parents to Camp Courage.
The weekend played out as most Camp Courage’s do – effectively teaching hard and soft skills, educating participants on where the movement stands and inspiring action. Having been through Camp before, the main focus for me this weekend was on my parents and how they were feeling and what they were learning. And they genuinely seemed to enjoy themselves and were really engaged in the materials. However, for me, the crowning moment came on the car ride home. My Dad told me he had three reflections on Camp and what he had learned there that I will share with you now:
- He had no idea the pain that LGBT people had felt over discrimination and losing initiatives like Proposition 8 and Question 1 until he saw people speaking about them openly and honestly at the Camp. See, I have always been a more stoic, let’s “focus on what we can do in the future” type of person, so for my Mom and Dad, they had never truly appreciated the pain this had inflicted on our community until they heard the stories of personal pain from others.
- My Dad shared with me his “Story of Self.” He had a gay cousin who had died of AIDS when my Dad was in his 20s. He had a lesbian sister who had come out to him and was now married with her wife. And he had me, his gay son, who was fighting for equality and who he hoped could one day get married in front of friends and family. LGBT issues had slowly intertwined their way thought his life and had always handled them decently (very supportive of me and his sister), but now realized his previous actions had been woefully inadequate and that he could no longer sit on the sidelines while people he cared about suffered and were discriminated against.
- He needed to get involved today. He wanted to sign up to canvass and to join California Faith for Equality, provided they had a means for him to contribute to meaningful action.
However, I missed an important opportunity in East LA, when I went to Camp but neglected to recruit my straight friends and family in LA to attend with me. This experience is not just a meaningful skills training for gay people - it is an opportunity to teach, empower and share ourselves and our struggle more fully with friends, straight allies and family. It is an opportunity to bring new faces and perspectives into the fight for equality.
And perhaps within this there is a greater lesson for our movement. Winning true equality in CA and beyond is going to be complex and will take a lot of hard work. It is not something we can win on our own, but we will need the help of those people who love and support us. And much the same way, my Dad now realizes that his response to his LGBT family was good, but inadequate – I realize my work during Proposition 8 was the same. I was happy to call voters, fund-raise money and talk to strangers – yet I neglected to have real conversations with the people I could most easily move on the issue.
The Briggs initiative was largely defeated by LGBT people “coming out” and talking to their friends and family. Winning marriage equality will require us to do the same thing. No longer can we be afraid that we might cause some discomfort with friends, family or strangers by having candid conversations about why we NEED equality. That discomfort is not because of anything that is wrong with us, but is because of a lack of knowledge or familiarity on the part of others. And if we are too scared or too ashamed to push through those difficult moments and make this an issue that can be a normal and comfortable part of conversation, then we are doomed to keep failing at the ballot box no matter how good our commercials are and how flawless our field campaign is.
So thank you again to Courage Campaign for all they do with these Camps. They are giving us the skills and the keys to gain full equality in California and beyond. And now, it is up to us to use them.
For more on Camp Courage Sacramento, read Syd Peterson posts on LGBT POV: Day One, Day Two
Crowd Image by Courage Campaign.