Out in Front: Jennifer Smith & Anj Ho
Advocates do more than talk the talk.
Posted Friday, October 19, 2012, 05:01PM
As a child, Jennifer Smith learned a lesson from her community-minded parents that resonated with her and greatly contributed to who she is today: If something needs to be done, do it. “From a young age, I had opportunities to participate,” she says. “I had that experience of getting others involved—to donate and, you know, to be involved in a process, which gave me qualities of how to lead as well as follow.”
Smith, a 2010 Point Scholar, could have worked her way up the ladder in corporate America, but found the environment to be the antithesis of what she wanted in her dream job, recognizing that her passion was in doing nonprofit and social justice work. “There was a point I realized two things,” she says. “One, I wanted to move forward in that passion in a way that would allow me to actually get paid to do it, and second, I realized that I could survive making less than an MBA or a lawyer, but I couldn’t survive any longer not doing something I loved, something that made a real difference to real people.”
Almost 10 years ago, Smith put her determination to good use, co-founding Unity Mississippi, an organization that helps to establish and promote harmony between the LGBT and heterosexual communities by serving as the catalyst for statewide education, interaction, entertainment, community growth, visibility and awareness.
She also spent five years working with the National Organization for Women, first as president of the Mississippi chapter, and then as a national board member for the Mid-South Region, all while working as a volunteer on several national political campaigns, including Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency. As for Obama’s advancement of LGBT affairs, Smith says that while more could have been done, it’s also important to celebrate the progressive triumphs that have come with his administration.
Every individual can make a big difference in the fight for LGBT rights, she says.
“Find how your own personal skills, talents, or interests can contribute to the change you want to see,” says Smith. “You don’t have to do everything. Just do something. Do something.”
Changing the Conversation
Research psychologist Anj Ho is passionate about women’s issues and queer issues, and she is using that passion to change hearts and minds in her home country, Singapore. But this is no mean feat in a postcolonial nation where, for instance, there are no laws prohibiting workplace discrimination against LGBT people.
Pictured: Anj Ho
As an advocate for gay rights, Ho has become a public figure throughout Asia. She began speaking out in 2006 by participating in IndigNation, Singapore’s Pride month, as a panelist on issues involved with coming out. She also gave educational lectures on topics including relationship myths, homophobia and sexual orientation. Ho has gone on to lecture at Seksualiti Merdeka, Malaysia’s Pride month, as well.
Ho spent several years as an active member of Sayoni, an organization in Singapore whose aims are to empower queer Asian women and educate the public. As part of the administrative committee, she helped to chart Sayoni’s overall direction and to coordinate specific projects, including assessing Singapore’s LGBT needs and developing resources within the community. She was also a member of a six-person team that wrote a guide for people who are experiencing same-sex attractions and are questioning their sexual orientation. Although she recently left Sayoni, the group is continuing her efforts and will be producing a coming-out guide for parents and friends.
Over the years, Ho has met with activists from Vietnam and Malaysia. Although their efforts to remove stigma and combat discrimination are the same, there are always country-specific issues, and she hopes to encourage collaboration on processes, practices and lessons learned that will go a long way toward expediting progress. “None of us live in isolation,” she says. “What happens in one country serves as a point of reference for other countries. As global citizens, we share the pain of people from other countries when they suffer injustice. And we wish that the human race as a whole advances.”
Whenever possible, Ho encourages lesbians to come out of the closet, so that others can see there is no deviancy in being gay. “When people around you see that you are not that negative stereotype, they will come to realize the truth about gay people,” Ho says. “That’s how society progresses.”
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