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Why “=” Matters

Contributing Writer

SOURCE: http://www.actonprinciples.org/wp-content/uploads/Getequalbox3.png

SOURCE: http://www.actonprinciples.org/wp-content/uploads/Getequalbox3.png

I hate math. So when I found Facebook blown up with bright red equal signs last week I wasn’t too pleased to say the least. My initial thought: not only has another sit-around-and-change-my-profile-picture-instead-of-actually-doing-something movement started, but they are heralding a math symbol to represent their cause. Awesome.

For those who may have been living under a rock recently, I’ll bring you up to speed on the situation. Last week the United States Supreme Court heard arguments on two cases involving gay marriage. One case deals with California’s Proposition 8, which is a law banning same-sex marriages; the other with the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which is a Federal Act that defines marriage as one man and one woman. To show their support for equal rights for homosexuals, many Facebook users changed their profile picture to a red equal sign.

Now, I’m all for marriage equality. Evidently, a lot of people are. Great! However, I didn’t change my profile picture. At least not at first. I usually find symbolic gestures such as these to be cheap and convenient ways for otherwise worthless people to feel like activists. Basically, I don’t like the fact that so many people are willing to show their “support” for a cause when it’s easy (like changing a profile pic or sharing a photo/status) but not active in actually DOING something. So, I didn’t change my profile picture.

Along with the army of red equal signs came lots of status updates in which users expressed their support of marriage equality. Again, great! I’m glad so many people are in favor of equality, but for similar reasons as I’ve stated above, I didn’t change mine. Then I kept reading and found some posts from the more conservative crowd. Several times I found statuses that stated something along the lines of “why is gay marriage so important when we should be focusing on poverty/the economy/immigration etc.” or “I promise the Supreme Court doesn’t care that you changed your profile pic…”. Which got me thinking – why are so many people changing their profile picture?

Sure, some people might be participating in a cheap attempt at activism, but I think there is something else behind the massive show of support in social media networks. I can’t speak for everyone else who has done so, but I can tell you why I ended up changing my profile picture. I don’t think that Justice Roberts will change his mind because of it. I honestly don’t think I’ll change anyone’s mind because of it. I did so because I have friends who are gay. People I’ve worked with and respect who  are gay. I’ve heard stories of how bigotry has kept my friends from fully enjoying their lives. Heartbreaking stories of how gay people have been denied the right to be with people they love in hospitals because they aren’t legally recognized as family; stories of people who are unable to attend the funeral of the love of their life because they were threatened by their partner’s homophobic family. These are people I know, love and respect – people who deserve the same respect, dignity and rights as straight couples. That’s who I changed my profile picture for. Not my conservative Facebook friends, not the Supreme Court justices and not to give myself a pat on the back for “being a part” of this struggle for equality. I did it to let my gay friends know they are not alone in this struggle. They have been mistreated and marginalized by enough of society. They deserve to know that they have support and I’m part of it.

I didn’t change my profile picture because I’ve forgotten there are “bigger” problems like poverty and starvation. I haven’t. Unlike those conservatives who have suddenly become concerned with the poor now that doing so helps them point out the “triviality” of gay marriage, I realize that my liberties are intimately tied with the marginalized and oppressed members of society. As President Obama so eloquently stated during his inauguration, “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers & sisters are treated like anyone else under the law. For if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.” I don’t fancy myself as some grand hero of this gay rights movement. The heroes are my friends who are standing up and demanding equal treatment, who are willing to accept the ridicule from so many for their sexuality and continue to fight for basic civil rights. If I can lend them the smallest bit of support, even if it is something as trivial as changing my profile picture, then I’m glad to do so. I didn’t change my profile picture because I think doing so is going to change the world. It changed because I’m lucky to have meaningful relationships with men and women who are dramatically affected by the results of these cases and I want them to know they aren’t alone.