Comment: The power of online activism & social media in the fight for LGBT equality

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Murray Lipp, administrator of the Facebook page ‘Gay Marriage USA,’ discusses his experience in maintaining America’s largest independent national equal marriage page on Facebook and the role that online activism is playing in helping to achieve LGBT equality.

When I first joined Facebook in 2007 there was no way for me to know that one day I’d be leading an online project about gay marriage and reaching out to nearly 300,000 people across America and the world. Now, I can’t imagine a day going by whereby I don’t access Facebook to work on my page ‘Gay Marriage USA’ to post a flurry of articles, links, images and comments about marriage equality and related issues. Online activism is indeed the new ‘front line’ in social justice advocacy and it is playing a crucial role in the rapidly advancing march towards LGBT equality across the USA and around the world.

My first major foray into online activism was in 2009 when New York State was seriously toying with the idea of legalising same-sex marriage. I started a page called ‘Gay Marriage New York’ which, by the time marriage equality was about to become law in New York in 2011, had attracted approximately 200,000 fans. GMNY was a hub of activity in the months leading up to the successful marriage equality vote in the New York legislature in June 2011. It showed me firsthand the power of social media in being able to rapidly share news and pitch important action requests to a large and captive audience.

Following the success of GMNY the next logical step for me was to ‘go national’ with my Facebook project and ‘Gay Marriage USA’ was born. Drawing on the success of GMNY it wasn’t long before GMUSA became my next big online focus and today it has become the largest independent, American-themed, national gay marriage page on Facebook. The growth and success of GMUSA as an Internet activism project is an excellent example of the power and utility of grassroots action via the Internet. In today’s social media landscape everyday citizens have the power to influence social change without having any formal organisational affiliation and without needing to rely on a public persona to achieve success.

While I have never received the backing or support of any of the large organisational players or activists in the LGBT political world in the USA, I’ve certainly had one thing in my favour: a massive amount of passion for social justice. I’ve often said that the definition of ‘passion’ (in regards to vocational work) is being able to voluntarily do something on a daily basis without ever receiving a single dollar in return for the labour and performing that labour with joy. That absolutely captures my experience with GMUSA to which I have devoted thousands of hours since July 2011, without pay or financial gain, and to which I continue to find great satisfaction in maintaining and developing.

GMUSA was instrumental in giving a voice to those who were angered by the Democratic Party’s plans to conduct its 2012 National Convention in a state (North Carolina) which in May 2012 passed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The petition started by GMUSA amassed more than 30,000 signatures and generated significant national media interest including an interview on CNN. Throughout the 2012 US Presidential campaign GMUSA was extremely active and influential online in promoting marriage equality electoral projects in the states of Maryland, Maine and Washington and in supporting the re-election of Barack Obama.

More recently, GMUSA drew attention to the ongoing plight of many LGBT-focused pages on Facebook which have often been unfairly penalised by the website’s automated complaint system. A wedding photo featuring a gay male couple (a Pentecostal bishop and a Pentecostal pastor) was the subject of a homophobic-driven complaint campaign which saw the image removed from Facebook and the page administrator (me) suspended from Facebook for a week. But, after reaching out to media (PinkNews, The Guardian, NBC News, GLAAD) and starting a petition Facebook apologised for the incident, restored the image, and reinstated my posting ability.

GMUSA doesn’t exist as an idle ‘interest page’ and as something which shows up in thousands of people’s list of ‘likes’ on Facebook. It exists to help affect societal change: by promoting the reality and validity of same-sex relationships; by advocating for the right of same-sex couples to marry; and by counterbalancing the dominance of heterosexual images, narratives and culture in broader society. It goes without saying that central to the success of ALL online activism campaigns is YOU, the individual. To this end, GMUSA would not exist without its followers and I welcome you to ‘like’ the page and hangout with me and 300,000 others on this journey towards marriage equality in the USA and beyond.

Murray Lipp is an Australian citizen who has lived in New York City since 2007. He works as a Social Worker in health care. He is the administrator of the Facebook page, Gay Marriage USA , and the Twitter account of the same name (@GayMarriageUSA).