Call to Action for the LGBT Peace Corps Community

- Charlie Rounds, RPCV, Cameroon 1978 – 1981

It seems kind of crazy that in October I will celebrate 30 years of coming home from the Peace Corps in Cameroon and Coming Out – one followed the other by 23 days. My coming out was facilitated by a fellow volunteer who told me that if I thought I was gay I should go to the Island of Mykonos on the way home, meet someone and … Well I did, and the rest is history. The closet door was not just opened – it came off the hinges.

In 1981 I came home to a gay Minnesota and a gay United States that looked very different from what I see today. Although we have come so far in 30 years – the next 16 months of my life will be consumed with trying to beat back an anti-gay amendment to the Minnesota Constitution. As Bruce Springsteen sings “one step forward – two steps back”, and yet we have no choice but to put everything we can into defeating it – and defeat it we will.

The challenge with this amendment is that it was brought on by an historic shift in the Minnesota House and Senate – a shift that was greatly helped by 3M, Target, Ecolab, and Best Buy. After being confronted about their contributions they all just shrugged and said – ‘this is not anti-gay – it is anti-tax.” Unfortunately in this day and age, you do not get one without the other. So as we move forward, how will we deal with a post Citizens United (the Supreme Court decision that agrees with Mitt Romney that corporations are people) United States? How do we judge a Target that has very good lgbt employee policies and has donated to HRC, and yet openly helps the most virulent anti-lgbt candidates? This week the CEO of New Balance had to “come-out” against the donation of his board chair to Mitt Romney. The CEO openly states that New Balance supports the lgbt community – that’s great – but Mitt Romney still has his $500,000 to try and again ban us from the military and destroy our marriages.

It will be very difficult for us as a movement to continue to win big battles if corporate America decides that profits trump everything else – including our basic civil rights. I therefore am hoping that on a national level, our leaders commit to establishing a plan to work with corporations to make them, as much as possible, stop giving to candidates who would deny us all of our hard earned rights. But even if they do, this strategy can only work, if the majority of our community and allies actually make our voices heard and most importantly shop where we are wanted and don’t where we aren’t. I have discussed this with many people who disagree with me and who most often say “you can’t win against big money.” I think we can and I think as RPCV’s we would not have done what we did with that attitude – we all went to change the world and I think in most cases we did. In this same vein we can change corporate America through constructive dialogue backed up with strong actions that lets them know that what is bad for the lgbt community is bad for America – including them.

At the same time that we help big corporations “see the light,” we also need, as a community to step up our own giving to finish the battle for our rights. There are various studies that show that less than 5% of the American lgbt community gives over $35 or more a year to an lgbt organization. The people on this site might find that extremely hard to believe, but one reason for the disbelief is that we are also “givers’ by nature or we would not have done what we did. We are most likely “surrounded by ourselves” i.e. by other people who give both their time and their money to the causes they believe in. But we are only a tiny minority. Another challenge to our national leaders will be to figure out how to a)  get more money out of those of us who already give, b) get more money from those who don’t and c) establish accost-effective ways to communicate the message to achieve (a) and (b). As someone who has been paid-to-be-gay (worked for companies that only sold to the lgbt community) I can tell you firsthand that we, through lgbt media and company databases, can most likely only reach less than 25% of our community. And messaging to us through mainstream media is just too expensive. Those that oppose us have the advantage of being at a place of worship every week. When the Catholic Church wants to stop gay rights in Minnesota they have access to 800,000 people. I doubt that our statewide lgbt organizations have even 5% of those names on their databases. But that does not mean we can just sit back and not do anything. In the next two to five years we will need to develop a strategy to increase lgbt giving to lgbt organizations 10 fold – it can be done – but we need to start now and not give up until 50% of our community is giving over $35 a year to an organization.

So as we are all aware – we have challenges ahead – but for this group – the glass will always be half full and perhaps we will one day see it full.

You can contact Charlie Rounds at roundscharlie@hotmail.com.

About LGBT RPCV
We are an organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and others who are Peace Corps volunteer alumni, current volunteers, former and current staff members and friends. Founded in Washington D.C. in 1991, we have several hundred members throughout the country and around the world who have served in Peace Corps since its beginning in 1961. We're made up of a national steering committee, together with regional chapters. We are an active affiliate member of the National Peace Corps Association.

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