Back in the day, the issues were those of visibility--the right to merely exist and congregate not as criminals but as human beings who were different from the majority of the population. Organizing and advocacy for LGBT rights revolved around the phone tree, fliers, newsletters, potlucks, gay/feminist bookstores, bars and meetings in safe spaces.
I remember going online for the first time (AOhell, of course), back in the early '90s--the novelty of entering a chat room and being able to "speak" with other gays and lesbians from Durham to Pocatello, Idaho, to countries far and wide was exciting and new. Folks were earnestly trying to connect, to share coming out stories, to compare notes on the state of gay life in the heartland or the Bible Belt. It was a way to learn that you weren't alone, that there was hope for a life outside of the closet, and if you weren't ready to kick open that door, a venue to feel free. It became clear early on that while the Internet presented a powerful medium to connect socially, it presented a way to profoundly change the way the gay community viewed itself. Because one could trade notes about how to handle the hate and bigotry, as well as formal political hurdles and fears in any given gay community around the country, news could travel fast, ideas shared locally, regionally and nationally via bulletin boards, Web sites, chat rooms.
If you didn't live in a large city with a well-known gay district, finding a community could be a challenge even just a few years ago. In fact, one local group that formed to foster contact in a fast-paced, Internet-driven world is TriangleGrrrls.com (of which I am a founding member). With over 1,000 area lesbians on its forum today, it provides a low-key way for newcomers to the area to connect through a bulletin board and calendar of events that includes dinners, hikes, movie outings, coffeehouse gatherings, even political activism (a contingent of TriangleGrrrls recently participated in Lobby Day at the General Assembly with Equality NC). Designated "HostGrrrls" are available at all gatherings to facilitate meeting and greeting and to help build a sense of community both online and offline. And today there are plenty of other local groups that function in much the same way, such as outtriangle.com.
The electronic phone tree of bulletin boards and mailing lists were all about connecting as a group, but the culture of blogging has taken things to the next level--building community and purpose around personality. Blogging is, at its core for most people, electronic journaling about what's important to the author--musings on daily life, a particular hobby or, as in my case, LGBT politics. When I started my blog in July 2004, it was simply to let off steam about the upcoming election and the state of issues that affect my life as an out lesbian--the right not to lose my job because I am gay, the right to marry--issues that were front and center as the homosexual boogeyman was flogged endlessly by the right wing.
I was shouting into the electronic void, not really expecting anyone to drop by and leave comments (a way to open discussion with the blog host and others who read a particular post). But somehow, eventually, folks dropped by, from near and far, to share what they thought about a particular rant I had for the day. One day I could post a photo essay about Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist clan's visit to Durham to protest the Durham School of the Arts' production of The Laramie Project (www.pamspaulding.com/weblog/2005/05/first-shots-from-westboro-baptist.html)or take a hard look at the insane bigotry of black pastors around the country who demonize gays with such vigor, using the Bible as a billy club when it was fewer than 40 years since Loving v. Virginia, which struck down anti-miscegenation laws.
It became clear that blogging about news stories involving LGBT concerns could give those who visited my blog an insight about the progress (or lack thereof) of gay rights in red state/blue state America. The power to reach not only the readers of your blog, but for those readers to then post about your news or action item on their blogs, serving as a town crier to act on a hot issue almost instantaneously in great numbers, is breathtaking.
I found out about the power and speed of the queer blogosphere in February. A conservative legal group, the Alliance Defense Fund, sponsored an event called The Day of Truth. Its purpose was to distribute free DVDs and materials to encourage fundamentalist students to counter The Day of Silence, a project of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and the U.S. Student Association (USSA)--a day-long vow of silence taken by students who support making anti-LGBT bias unacceptable in schools and to recognize and protest the discrimination and harassment.
Anyone could sign up to receive the free DVD, T-shirts and handouts of anti-gay propaganda from the ADF, so I used one post on the blog to start a campaign to order the materials--at the ADF's cost, since the organization paid for shipping. That one post generated a deluge of orders that closed down the ADF store in just a few hours--all from one blog that averages only 2,500 to 3,000 unique visitors a day.
With the mid-term elections just months away and 2008 around the corner, it's essential for the LGBT community to harness the power of the blogosphere to effect change and attract the attention of lawmakers with this clout. This new venue for communication and activism can and will influence the ability to raise (or withhold) funds and votes for candidates who think that they don't have to articulate a clear position on civil equality. It will be a queer keyboard revolution.