This essay comes from “It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living,” a collection of original essays and testimonials written to teens from celebrities, political leaders, and everyday people. This one was written by Urvashi Vaid, an Indian American leading LGBT rights activist. You can purchase a copy of the book, or donate one to a local school or library, through our store.
“Despite the title of this book, there is nothing inevitable about change for the better. The only reason big changes happen is when people like you and me decide to fight for things to change, when we take action to make things different.
“Gandhi organized for decades in India to get rid of the British. In 1947 (only sixty-four years ago!), the movement he created overthrew one of the biggest colonial empires using nonviolent resistance.
“Your grandmothers and great-grandmothers could not vote in the United States- it only changed in 1921 (ninety years ago!).
“Black people did not have full voting rights in this country until 1965 (forty-six years ago!).
“And lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people did not have the right to have sexual relationships without violating criminal laws until 2003 (only eight years ago!). Or think about India: The LGBT movement just got a court to overturn the laws criminalizing same-sex/same-gender behaviour in 2009 (two years ago!).
“All of these changes- for women, for African Americans, for LGBT folks- took a massive social movement to make happen.
“This is my story of how it’s gotten better for me. I’m Indian American, born there, and grew up here since I was eight. Like all Asian kids, my family’s expectations- their dreams for me, their demands on me- weighed heavily on me, and never heavier than when I realized I was a lesbian.
“But you know what? Activism saved my life. I got involved with a feminist group (of men and women working to really transform gender roles and patriarchy into a more just system). I got involved with a movement trying to end the racist Apartheid system in South Africa (you guys, it only ended in 1994!). I got involved with queer activism, with lefty groups, with all the rabble-rousers and radicals working to end the AIDS epidemic, to create a fairer economy, to win rights for immigrants, to end wars, and make the world more fun and sexy!
“What I found in social movements was a whole life that has given me hope, inspiration, friendships, and my lover, Kate (of twenty-three years), whom I met at a queer conference. Social activism is all about optimism, even when you lose. The process of doing something about it all generates a lot of adrenaline and serotonin that just make you feel better, like a sweaty dance to music you love.
“But truthfully, social change is not always fun- just like life. There’s a lot of wacky people, nut-bucket opponents, and powerful forces that want to maintain things just the way they are- so defeat, occasional despair, loss, and discomfort are all part of the process of social action.
“What keeps me going, though, is a combination of stubbornness (I’ll be damned if they are going to knock me around and get away with it), cold-blooded anger (don’t get mad, get even), faith (social-justice activism is an act of belief in the possibility of something you do not know will happen), and pleasure (in the people I have met along the way, the incredible change I have been a small part of making, and the massive amounts of fun I have had along the way).
“The great news is that there is a global queer movement today. And it is full of young and old people fighting to make space for us to live and love and breathe and be who we are and create the lives we imagine. You can join it; in fact you can lead it. It’s all being made right before your eyes.
So make it better- get active.”
Urvashi Vaid was born in New Delhi, India but has lived in the United States since she was 8-years-old. She is a rights activist, organizer, and writer who works in the progressive and LGBT movements. She is the founder of the first lesbian political action committee (LPAC) and has worked in various capacities for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) and the American Civil Liberities Union (ACLU). She currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Gill Foundation and is the Director of the Engaging Tradition Project at the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School. She recently was awarded the 2014 Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) Spirit of Justice Award for her critical work in securing equal justice for LGBT people.