Today many people are wearing purple in solidarity against the bullying which has made life hell for LGBT teens for so long. Some may wonder about the value of such “passive” acts of activism, even if is does count as activism at all. I want to share a story which may help them understand.
When I was in college, I finally figured out that I was bisexual. To understand the environment I was in, you might want to mentally transport yourself back 20+ years, to when Act Up was a nascent group, no major actor had yet come out, and bisexuality was considered a phase.
Recognizing my orientation was huge for me. It made me finally feel whole and explained many confusing thoughts and feelings I’d had since childhood. It is what finally allowed me to stop hating my body so much and allowed me to shake the eating disorder that had plagued me for years. I think it took me so long to figure it out because my attraction to boys certainly helped me to blend in, and it masked my attraction to girls. I also think it took that long because no one was out in my high school – and I had never met a bisexual so in many ways it’s like it wasn’t an option, it didn’t exist.
At that time it didn’t really exist at my college, either. We had a Gay Lesbian Alliance and every support group there seemed to consider bisexual in the same category as “questioning,” meaning: unresolved & not-real. I met one other bi woman and together we formed a group to support bi folks, a group which quickly grew. Once I was out on campus, I was very active, putting my phone number as a resource in the campus directory and leading anti-homophobia groups. I was simultaneously negotiating with the GLA to add “Bisexual” to their name (and their thinking).
Outside of campus, some of my relatives made it eminently clear that they violently hated gays, while others just made fun of them. I was on some crazy emotional ride: feeling fantastic when I came out and was supported by some people on campus, feeling angered by the doubt of others, hurt when I imagined what my relatives’ reactions would be, and fearful that they’d find out.
My college was really progressive and had a week of celebration & education on gay & lesbian issues every year. In my junior year, in the middle of the football field (which was at the center of our campus) we had a very large pink triangle wood sculpture that I had helped to build.
A couple days after we placed the triangle, I heard an urgent knock on my door in the middle of the night. It was sometime after midnight, maybe 2 a.m. I don’t really remember. We were called to an emergency meeting at the GLA right then. When I arrived, I learned that someone had set fire to the giant pink triangle and it burned to the ground. The mental images of burning crosses and hate rallies were impossible to shake. The room was filled with a mixture of rage and fear. It was hard not to mentally spin out into images of violence, questions like “what else are they capable of?” were in the air. It was painful to imagine that one of our classmates had done this, and yet that had to be the case.
And what would be our response? We debated many things that night, trying to nail down a strong response that didn’t incite an even greater and more violent retaliation. We also knew that many of our friends wanted to help, including many straight classmates and teachers.
I am exceptionally proud of our choice that night. We decided to cut pink paper into hundreds of triangles and ask people to put them up in their dorm windows. Volunteers went from door-to-door, asking friends and strangers to join them in a display of solidarity. At first we all felt nervous, but soon many allies came forward and the requests became easier to make. They also lead to really fruitful – if sometimes difficult – conversations, opening up a dialog that continued for days and weeks afterwards. As more and more triangles appeared all over campus, some teachers also decided put them up in their classrooms.
The effect of this on me and others in our community was overwhelming. When I first looked up and saw a wall of windows studded with pink triangles, I broke down in tears. I felt a sense of safety and welcoming, and realized at that moment how great my need was for exactly that feeling. It was like being hugged by strangers, being told I was ok. For those on my campus who had experienced serious bullying and violence because of their orientation, the effect was even more extreme. And it was amazing.
The following year, during the Lesbian, Gay & Bisexual (!) Awareness Week, many people wore pink triangles on their clothing. Their ubiquity made it easier for those who were not yet out to feel comfortable. Some of our straight allies also decided not to clarify their orientation, sitting with whatever feelings came up when others thought they were gay. I found that preconceptions were shaken in ways that were lastingly effective.
And that’s why I’m wearing purple today. Because if anyone out there needs a hug, it’s a young person who isn’t yet out and feels really isolated. I’d like them to know that they’re not alone – and that they don’t even have to ask me for support. I’ll just give it.