One Man’s “Gay Agenda”: Volunteering in the Wider Community

Byline: Carl Bloom

Carl Bloom, a Coloradan, is a son of Joan Bloom, Board member of PFLAG/Greater Providence.

The ongoing bullying of lesbian, gay and transgender youth and resulting suicides disclose persistent bias and hatred and the need for persistence in our efforts to fight intolerance. Each LGBT person has the power to bring about change and to help create a world in which our young people experience acceptance, respect and dignity. In embracing our own identity, we make a statement against bigotry and homophobia.  Through our openness about who we are and whom we love, we reinforce the message that we are everywhere, we are proud, and we make positive and important contributions.

With this sentiment in mind I emphasize the value of community involvement and volunteerism for gays and lesbians. While donating one’s time and effort to support LGBT organizations/initiatives is important and necessary, it is equally important to support those programs whose scope extends beyond our own community. When some TV shows depict us as self-serving, narcissistic egomaniacs, it is crucial that we demonstrate our interest in others by serving the community as a whole.  By involving ourselves in “mainstream” organizations and initiatives, we not only contribute for the benefit of others, but also enhance the reputation and image of the LGBT community.

This concept is well illustrated by the Gay & Lesbian Fund for Colorado  (www.gayandlesbianfund.org), whose mission is to promote equality by supporting non-profits that serve all Coloradans. The Fund explicitly states that it will not fund organizations that serve the LGBT population exclusively. The philosophy is that by visibly contributing to the wider good, we can shift public perspectives of who we are and what is important to us.

Most cities have numerous organizations focused on a wide range of causes that are often in need of volunteers.  Personally, I have enjoyed working with young people and therefore elected to volunteer with an inner-city mentoring program. I selected this program because I felt the values of the organization align with my own, and it could introduce me to teens whose experience varies significantly from my own, offering the opportunity to expand my own perspective. My “mentee” and I are entering our third [academic] year of partnership and have committed to remaining together through his graduation next year. Entering a relationship with an unfamiliar young person has been a valuable learning opportunity; I found myself revisiting and needing to work through some of my residual high-school angst around fitting in and wanting to “be cool.” I also experienced anxiety about how/if/when I should be open about my sexual orientation.

Building relationships with those outside our comfort zone makes us consider what role our sexual orientation plays in defining who we are outside of our own LGBT community. It also provides others, like my mentee, who have had limited exposure to “out” LGBT people, the chance to learn about us first-hand in a way that may shape or shift their perceptions. I’m pleased that my mentee was, without hesitation, accepting of my being gay and has shown openness and a surprising level of comfort in meeting a boyfriend or gay friends of mine. I hope that my willingness to be open with him will, to some degree, provide a model of personal integrity as he develops his own identity in the world as a young adult. It is also my hope that he will move into adulthood having developed a sense of respect for others and an appreciation of differences.

Another organization with which I have been heavily involved in recent years is the Susan G. Komen Foundation (www.komen.org). This organization is supported by numerous fundraising events, including the 3-Day for the Cure, a three-day, 60-mile walk that takes place in many cities across the country to raise money for the fight to end breast cancer. For the past two years, my mother and I have participated in the Denver Walk (last summer with both of us on the support Crew and this year with me walking and Mom again on the Crew). Through training walks, meetings, and the event itself I have met so many remarkably brave and determined women (and men); women whose stories have prompted me to push myself physically and emotionally. Perhaps one of the most valuable things to come from my involvement has been the chance to connect with so many strangers and to feel such a sense of community among individuals of varied backgrounds.

Because I am not married and have no daughters, I was often asked what prompted me to become involved with the Walk. This opened the door to conversations that disclosed that gay men have seen the impact of this disease in the lives of our sisters, mothers, co-workers, and friends. Walking for hours with people who had only recently been strangers, we shared stories about families, spirituality, travels and other topics that transcend sexual orientation or even one’s beliefs about the matter. I hope that my involvement, along with that of my mother, has opened others’ eyes to the faces of LGBT people and has served as an example of a loving and accepting family relationship.

It’s easy to get caught up in the demands of our day-to-day lives and to focus energy on our immediate needs and interests. Setting aside time to become involved in the greater community through volunteerism, however, is not only good for the soul and beneficial to those in need, but also serves the interests of our own LGBT community. We can foster understanding and show the world our compassion and dedication. Take the time to investigate local volunteer efforts and make a commitment to support change. For a list of local programs/initiatives, check out Serve Rhode Island (www.ServeRhodeIsland.org) and be proud of who you are and what you have to contribute!