Not a day goes by without my mailbox receiving appeals from worthy charities. Every organization from Save the Whales to Famine Relief in Wherever Land seems to think I am made of money, and will leap to subscribe a dollar a month to keep adorable little Maria (picture of her needing a bath and looking winsome included) from being eaten by rats. Well, I’m sorry, but its rats one, Maria zero. I can’t do it. I’d be bankrupt in a week if I tried to answer all these appeals. Maybe I’ll win the lottery before the rats get past Maria’s toes but short of that, she’s doomed.
You, dear reader, know what I’m talking about because you get all these appeals, too. At some point we each pick the charity or two that resonates with us, and from then on, they get the pittance we can squeeze out of the grocery budget, and that’s it. Regardless of the twinges of guilt little Maria inevitably causes, everyone else goes in the circular file — usually unopened.
Sometimes our “charity” is self-serving. We do it to make ourselves feel good or to make others think well of us. Sometimes our motives are even more base. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, for example, gets $200 a year from me. It isn’t charity in any sense of the word. They don’t even have to send me photos of starving, unwashed curators to get the money. I give it to them for one reason only: so I can have the maroon member’s card that gives access to the members lounge and dining room. That way, when I go to the Met, I can have lunch in a quiet, elegant space without crowds of tourists and squalling infants. It’s cheap at the price but it isn’t charity even though the Met’s PR Department keeps telling me how vital my contribution is to keeping this great, public institution alive and lavish. The food is better in the dining room than in the cafeteria too, by the way.
OK, I hear you saying “well, why don’t you take that $200 and feed little Maria rather than worrying about where your skinny butt is going to sit for lunch?” Maybe in the next lifetime I’ll achieve that level of sainthood, but I’m just not there yet. I am not about to “give all that I have to the poor” and I don’t expect you, dear reader, to do so, either. Anyway, what would the poor do with Aunt Winifred’s china? It’s a service for 24, and that’s a lot to truck around in a shopping cart all day, even if they discarded the turkey platter and the soup tureen. And that’s not to even mention my extensive (definitive even) collection of pictures of decorated Victorian bathtubs. That would just be a burden to the poor, I’m certain. It would raise discontent, and unreasonable expectations in people who don’t even own a bathtub and might not know how to use one if they did.
While we can’t do more than throw a bone to little Maria or to the shopping cart people, there is an area of “charity” we as LGBT people, friends and family really do need to take seriously. I put the word charity in quotes because it really isn’t charity any more than my $200 to the Met is. It is self-interest, it is survival. I refer to our LGBT organizations that are presently fighting a constant battle against the Trump assaults on our civil rights. In previous essays on this subject, I have often quoted Ben Franklin’s words to the Continental Congress during the Revolution: “gentlemen, if we do not all hang together we shall most assuredly all hang separately.” I will no doubt repeat them again and again because they have never been more relevant than now.
The latest mean, unnecessary move by Trump — a completely bogus attack on transgender people — is a striking example of what we face. Bit by bit, Trump and his fanatic, fundamentalist, fascist base are trying to eat away at everything our long struggle for equality has accomplished. We may be tired of fighting and tired of giving, but as long as we are under attack, we have still not done enough. We could send out our own photos of winsome kids, only our little Maria wouldn’t be starving; she’d be contemplating suicide because she’s transgender, and the powers in the land have told her she doesn’t exist, or she’s gay and some jerk like Chris Smith has told her that her rights “aren’t human rights.” Yes, Smith said that. We don’t have to send out such photos however, because we all know such kids are very real. You may well have been one yourself.
For our own survival, and most of all, for that kid, we each need to work as hard as we can and give all that we can in unity with all our brothers and sisters in this dark time of increasing peril. The odds are against us.
We may be defeated. But if we are, at least let it not be due to our own selfishness and parsimony. Let us nail the rainbow flag — to the mast and sail into the storm with a full crew. There is nothing else we can do if we are to have a chance of victory.
Toby Grace is Editor Emeritus of Out In Jersey magazine.