My Facebook identity needs a change. For weeks, my profile photo has been the Trayvon Martin stylized black-and-white hoodie. My cover photo is Evgeny Feldman’s Associated Press photo of activists in Moscow holding a rainbow banner that reads “Homophobia Is the Religion of Bullies.”
I chose the Martin profile picture because as a high school kid in Florida, driving home from work one night, I was trailed by a police officer. All I knew was headlights were following me, and I tried to evade them. There easily could’ve been an accident as I careened around corners with what I guessed to be some fag-bashing guys from the football team in hot pursuit. After a mile or so, the officer finally turned on his flashing lights. I immediately pulled over, of course. Lucky for both of us no harm had been done, though I certainly would’ve gotten the blame had there been. I learned then that if you’re going to trail someone, you’re surely responsible for whatever happens next.
The Moscow protest photo stands as a reminder that LGBT people in Russia are fighting for not just their basic human rights, but their lives. Russia may not be following the lead of Iran and others in executing gays, but authorities have certainly fostered an environment that’s made it open season on us.
And now there are fresh wounds on both fronts. Dr. Shiping Bao, the medical examiner who handled Martin’s body, last week claimed — after being fired — that prosecutors were biased against Martin. Meanwhile, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is reporting that another savage attack on a gay man in Russia may have occurred.
Despite my reluctance to let these images go, I’m moving on in a sense. It’s a lesson I learned growing up in the Catholic Church. If I’m faced daily with a disturbing or gruesome image — in this case, the ever-present death-by-torture Crucifixion — it becomes impotent. At some point I stopped associating the Crucifixion with a horrific execution, but with weddings, funerals and sleep-inducing sermons.
I certainly don’t want to play a part in desensitizing people to the story of Trayvon Martin or to the oppression of the LGBT community in Russia.
Changing out a couple Facebook photos doesn’t mean I’m not still thinking about both, of course. Note to Mr. Putin and others: It doesn’t mean I’m forgetting. The images, and images like them will come back. I’ll always be wearing a hoodie, in a sense, always holding a candle for my peers in Russia – and Saudi Arabia and Uganda and Cleveland – and acting accordingly.
While not forgetting, though, I also have a responsibility to put joy in my life when I can, to not let myself be mired in the masochistic pleasure of never acknowledging the good. The activist who refuses to ever let down her righteousness is little better than the complacent citizen who refuses to ever open his eyes.
The world is full of the horrific. Washington offered plenty of proof of that Monday. Any day of the week, however, we will see homelessness, will hear of another violent attack. There is no shortage of misery and cruelty wherever we look. But there is also no shortage of joy and beauty. For the sake of my own balance, I need to hunt for a bit more of the latter. It’s important to me that I declare, however, that I’ve not forgotten Martin and Russia.
A Gandhi quote comes to mind: “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”
And losing one’s faith in humanity would be an even greater shame than turning one’s back on injustice.
Will O’Bryan is Metro Weekly‘s managing editor. Email him at wobryan@MetroWeekly.com, or follow him on Twitter @wobryan.