Telling Truths

By Kerry Lobel

Like many people, I have found myself moved by the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. While it is true that I am a soft touch for determined blonde femmes with strong social convictions, I also appreciate that Diana sought to provide comfort for others while at the same time looking for love herself. I am glad that the media has focused on Diana as an agent of change and on her work with survivors of land mines, the homeless and people with AIDS.

Few of us come to fame by marrying an heir to the throne. And few have the advantages that come to those with wealth and royal privilege. Yet each of us can make social change in our own way.

I've been reminded recently of two such women who have profoundly changed the world in which we live, Dorothy Hadjys and Adrienne Rich. Dorothy Hadjys is the mother of Allen Schindler, a sailor who was brutally murdered by his shipmates because he was gay. Adrienne Rich is a remarkable writer whose nearly two dozen volumes of poetry and prose have been transformational. Two of her essays, "Compulsory Heterosexuality" and "Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying," transformed many in my generation.

Dorothy Hadjys came to her activism because of her son's murder. When the Navy stonewalled Dorothy, she worked tirelessly (with help from the gay, lesbian and bisexual community) to insure that Allen Schindler's killers would be brought to justice. Dorothy's vigilance can never end.

Now, with the help of the Servicemember's Legal Defense Network, Dorothy is trying to collect one million signatures to insure that Allen's killer is never considered for parole. Her story was recently portrayed in the film, "Any Mother's Son." When I met Dorothy this past August, she said there were only two places left where she wanted to tell her story -- to Oprah Winfrey and the President of the United States. She understands there is great power in telling her story and the story of her son.

Earlier this summer Adrienne Rich got word that she had been selected to receive the prestigious National Medal for the Arts. Each year, the award is given to twelve recipients. She turned the Medal down flat because accepting it would be viewed as condoning the Administration's social policies with which she disagrees. She wrote to Jane Alexander, chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, "A President cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored."

As Rich said to journalist Laura Flanders, "You know, I really wouldn't mandate what someone else should do in a situation like this, and as I've said there's no simple formula for the relationship of art to justice. I did what I had to do because of who I am."

As Rich says in "Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying" (from "On Lies, Secrets and Silence: Selected Prose 1966-1978"), "Truthfulness anywhere means a heightened complexity...The politics worth having, the relationships worth having, demand that we delve still deeper."

And, each of these women has. Each came to their political work from widely divergent starting places. Each was passionately and tirelessly driven to tell the truth in their own way. Each teaches us that truth-telling transforms both the teller and those of us who listen.

As Rich says, "...truth is not one thing, or even a system. It is an increasing complexity." The stories each of us tells about our lives and our willingness to dig deep and take risks, transforms not only our own gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, but the lives of millions around the world. It is this transformation connecting personal to political action each day of our lives, that makes social change.

Eye on Equality is a monthly column that discusses or gives commentary on national and state-level political events or provides a behind-the-scenes look at social movements and trends. The column is written by Kerry Lobel, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

©1997 Oasis Magazine. All Rights Reserved.