What is it that drives people to devote their lives to fighting the status quo for the sake of progress?
This is the question that I [Jenni] find myself asking every Supergay that we interview. Why does a young Cambodian man like Srorn Srun, who has every reason to focus on bettering his own lot in life, decide to devote his time to organizing support groups for lesbians? How come two ministers in Kenya, both straight men with families, are willing to put their reputations and even lives on the line in order to help fight religious homophobia in East Africa? And what motivated Jean Wyllys to use his celebrity status as the winner of a popular reality TV show to enter politics and become an LGBT activist in Brazil?
It’s hard to get a straight answer on this question, but I’m coming to the conclusion that do-gooders like our Supergays are driven by a mix of empathy, conscience, and an audacious belief that things don’t have to be this way. In every case, the individual has personally experienced the injustices faced by lesbians, gays and transgendered people in their community. Recognizing that they have resources that others lack, their conscience drives them to use what they have to help others. And as for the audacious belief – most of the Supergays we’ve interviewed started their activism after witnessing models of the LGBT movement in more progressive parts of the world. Sunil Pant lived in Japan and studied the gay movement in the West before returning to Nepal to fight for LGBT rights in his own country. Xiangqi never considered community organizing for lesbians in China until she learned about the movement in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
I’m always amazed at how much good one passionate and committed individual can do in the world. So now that Lisa and I are back at home, the question I keep asking myself is: How much am I willing to devote my life to do the same?
Admittedly, I went on this trip for a whole bunch of selfish reasons. Who wouldn’t want to take a break from life and travel the world, meet amazing people, and spend a year with their partner and best friend? If I give myself an honest assessment, I’m a fair-weather activist. I do it when it’s convenient or useful for me. Does the marriage equality rally fit in with my weekend plans? If yes, okay. If no, sorry but I’m too busy.
Now, there’s a healthy dose of selfishness in the work of every activist. But there’s something more beyond mere selfish interest that drives people to fully devote themselves to human rights work, and again I’m concluding that it boils down to an above-average amount of empathy, conscience, and audacious belief.
In me, these qualities are being put to the test now that I’m back in “normal life” with a 9-5 cubicle job, a house, and a full social schedule. Empathy becomes difficult when your life is comfortable and the challenges of gays and lesbians in the developing world are an ocean away. Conscience becomes buried under the demands of daily life. And as for audacious belief – Can I really imagine a world where being gay, lesbian or transgender is viewed as just another dimension of human diversity rather than being the source of such vicious moral and religious debate?
The trip portion of Out and Around is over. But our mission isn’t. To be honest, Lisa and I are trying to figure out how we continue the work we started now that we’re home. I’m often brought back to this quote by E.M. Forster: “One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested.” While I don’t know where we’re going to go next with all of this, I do know that to be a Supergay requires a superhuman passion that is anything but fair weather.
This article first appeared at Jenni and Lisa's travelblog, OutandAround.com.