A dozen activists work intently with computers and papers

On using social media for social justice

Patrick Yaeger ’95
“I wanted to bridge the gap between the fledgling post Prop 8 equality activists and the educational empowering quality media that I knew was out there.”

When someone asks me, “are gay rights civil rights?” my answer is always, “Of course they are.” Civil rights are positive legal prerogatives: the right to equal treatment before the law. These are the rights shared by everyone. There is no one in the United States who does not, or should not, enjoy or share in enjoying these rights. Gay and lesbian rights are not special rights in any way. It isn’t “special” to be free from discrimination. It is an ordinary, universal entitlement of citizenship.
~NAACP National Chairman Julian Bond

I was raised in an outer suburb of Louisville, Kentucky in Bullitt County — deep in the Bible Belt, where socially conservative evangelical Protestantism dominated the culture. During the 1970’s, when I was a child, the American religious right began their political ascent, rife with an extremely anti-gay supremacist ideology. Upon high school graduation, I fled north to Oberlin College, a liberal sanctuary.

It was during my first days matriculating to Oberlin in 1989, about 20 years ago, that I first felt safe and welcomed as a gay person. I vividly remember sitting with other freshman students as we were asked who among us was gay. We were asked not as a sign of derision, but as one of respect for diversity. I attended meetings of the Oberlin LGBT student group off and on during my college years; I participated in pro-gay chalkings and local mall hand-holding demonstrations. It was at Oberlin that I confronted for the first time my own internalized homophobia (self-hatred) and began the work of healing from the fear and shame I hadn’t been able to defend against absorbing (though I had tried mightily) during my youth in Kentucky. Without a doubt, at Oberlin, surrounded by wonderful progressive people, my consciousness was raised to understand the greater LGBT Civil Rights Movement and my inextricable place in it.

I graduated in 1995 with a Bachelor of Music. In 2001, while living in New York City, I rented some web server space and began experimenting with a personal blog. It wasn’t anything special; just a place to rant, explore my nerdy side, and feature interesting content. Still, it gave me a taste of what the blogging world was all about and the power of online media.

Over the years, I saw that a lot of great media focused on the fight for LGBT equality was going undiscovered. And when Proposition 8 passed in California, I decided I wanted to play some part in fixing what I considered to be a disconnect. I wanted to bridge the gap between the fledgling post Prop 8 equality activists and the educational empowering quality media that I knew was out there. And since other popular LGBT political websites (like Pam’s House Blend, The Bilerico Project and Towleroad) already did commentary so well, I wanted to de-emphasize commentary and stick as much as possible to simply great multimedia. Thus, in 2008 and 2009, I began creating what I now call the GAY RIGHTS MEDIA collections.

I dedicated my personal blog to my new gay rights media cause and renamed it “Gay Rights Media.” Almost simultaneously, I created The Gay Civil Rights Movement page on Facebook as well as other collections on YouTube, Twitter and Flickr. There are also collections on FriendFeed and VodPod.

Last year, I took my activism offline and onto the road, joining the Maine ‘No On 1’ campaign to save marriage equality there, just as it was about to be enacted. I wanted to be more hands-on with the incredible movement I knew so much about from curating the Gay Rights Media collections. Volunteering for over a month, I met countless LGBT community organizers, leaders, and local allies who thought, like me, that maybe this time we could defeat the fear-based smears of the anti-gay industries.

Sadly, and to my great shock, the people of Maine vetoed marriage rights for the gay and lesbian minority of their state. I was overwhelmed by the grief all around as Maine couples realized their joyous wedding plans were to be canceled and all our long, hard-fought efforts had been shunned. But we know the fight will be fought again, perhaps next time in the courts.

Currently, I’m helping with the effort to bring the federal trial Perry v. Schwarzenegger, which seeks to overturn California’s Proposition 8, to a wider audience. The documentarian and film producer behind the Prop 8 trial video re-enactments, John Ireland, accepted my offer to redesign their website. I think that project complements nicely my ongoing mission to curate great multimedia of the LGBT Civil Rights Movement.

Harnessing the power of the web to get more eyes in front of important media in service of a higher purpose has been a great privilege. Looking ahead, I must find a way to work with more non-profits and organizations, especially LGBT ones. I believe I can help them connect to a wider audience and showcase their content online in more powerful ways.

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