What is that red “=” we keep seeing on Facebook, and what should we do about it?

image

I saw this logo in a red/pink color scheme everywhere today, and I’m sure most of you did too. A good portion of my Facebook friends changed their profile pictures to this equal sign throughout the day, showing support for marriage equality as the Supreme Court begins a series of hearings on gay marriage, starting with Proposition 8. I also found out today that a good number of people who changed their profile pictures and an even bigger number of people who saw these equal signs on Facebook do not even know what organization this logo come from. When I asked what they thought the equal sign meant, a lot of them replied, “I think it has something to do with gay marriage equality.”

That is the right answer… to an extremely short extent. As helpful as changing your profile picture is to promoting awareness and support for the LGBTQ community, a better alternative would be to know exactly what the organization you’re choosing to support and whose logo you’re plastering all over Facebook is all about. Maybe a little more knowledge can go a long way. Here’s how I found out about the Human Rights Campaign (yeah, that’s the name of the organization behind this social media frenzy). 

During my trip to New York City over spring break, I was approached in Brooklyn by an eager activist named Brian, who asked me if I had “a few minutes to spare for human rights.” He seemed legitimate enough: clipboard and pen in hand, portfolio full of informational brochures under arm, and that now-so prolific logo across his chest. He also incredibly passionate (as I was already halfway down the street when he saw me and chased after me), and for some reason, this time when a stranger approached me on the street, I didn’t really feel the need to run away immediately. It had been raining pretty substantially the entire morning, so we ducked under the doorway of a nearby clothing store to talk. 

He explained that he was a member of the Human Rights Campaign, the biggest LGBTQ equal rights and political lobbying organization in the U.S. HRC is trying to educate the public about marriage and workplace discrimination  LGBTQ community. He related to me this factoid: 

In 29 states, it remains legal to fire someone because they’re lesbian, gay, or bisexual; in 34 states it’s legal to fire someone solely for being transgender.

After about a 30-minute, incredibly amicable conversation about the political issues surrounding the LGBTQ community, he asked me if I’d like to donate and become a member of the HRC. I definitively said yes, but after realizing that becoming a member would entail giving out my home address, to where the HRC will be sending monthly newsletters and donation forms, I felt I had to deny.

The reason, which I did not disclose to Brian, was because my parents are incredibly conservative when it comes to social issues. They have never and probably will never support marriage equality. Although, I have voiced constantly and proudly my dissenting opinion on the subject, I understand why my parents might feel the way they do, and because I respect them, I can find a way to respect their opinions, too. I did not want to put them in a position where they would receive monthly propaganda that they did not sign up for, about a cause they do not believe in. 

I did donate, however, and I have been researching the organization ever since, looking for other ways to get involved. 

So when I saw the equality signs on Facebook today, I knew what they stood for, but I didn’t know that much about the political significance surrounding today until I pulled up the HRC website. I also knew that without a link to their website or to news articles about Prop 8 or DOMA, a lot of people might not know, and therefore might not care. A picture without a backstory might not be worth a thousand words in that case; it might just be confusing. 

The bigger picture is this: support what you support, and do it passionately if the cause is really worth your time. If it is, please understand what exactly you’re supporting. Know the facts. Do a little research. A profile picture won’t help anyone know what’s actually going on, so if we are really trying to spread awareness through social media, let’s do it right. Instead of posting one picture, let’s post some links to relavent articles and make the organization (and their goals) behind the equal sign known. Before today’s DOMA hearings, find out more:

Human Rights Campaign:

http://humanrightscampaign.tumblr.com/ (Isn’t it great that their website is hosted by Tumblr?)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Rights_Campaign

http://www.facebook.com/humanrightscampaign?ref=stream 

Hear the oral arguments for/against Prop 8: 

http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/311637-1

Articles about DOMA hearings tomorrow:

http://www.npr.org/2013/03/27/175295410/doma-challenge-tests-federal-definition-of-marriage#

http://www.npr.org/2013/03/26/175350841/its-bad-for-business-employers-side-with-doma-opponents

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2013/03/supreme-court-gay-marriage-primer-prop-8-doma.html