Activist Interview: Dan Leveille!

After reading a bit about Dan (description sent by Dan), please see the interview below.

Dan Leveille is a marketer, developer and product guy living in Los Angeles, CA. Dan is currently working at deviantART as a Product Marketing Manager. While he’s not working at deviantART, he’s building Equaldex, a collaborative knowledge base for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) movement. Dan is passionate about LGBT rights, the social web, and building innovative web products. Dan’s passion was really amplified during his college years at Rochester Institute of Technology when he created BookMaid a textbook exchange website for students at the college, back in 2007.

What inspired you to become an activist?

It actually started through social media. Back when I was in college there were a short period where quite a few gay marriage laws changed while others came close to changing. I heard about them through my friends on social media and started to follow the news very closely. As I followed the progress of the LGBT movement, it deepened my passion for being an activist. As the laws changed, I realized that there wasn't really a good place on the web (or anywhere) to see the global status of gay marriage and other LGBT laws. I decided that I would create one, and the idea evolved from being just a map on a website to a full collaborative website that aims to cover more than just laws.

What have been highlights of your activism? What have been some surprises?

I run a blog for Equaldex and I’d say there were quite a few highlights running the blog. There were a few stories that brought in quite a few thousand views and a few of my stories got picked up my major LGBT blogs, which was pretty encouraging.

Back in August, I private launched Equaldex to a group of Alpha Testers. After several years of slowly working on the site, it was a huge milestone to have people finally using it and seeing people really excited about it.

One surprise I’ve noticed was actually about myself, personally. When I first started being involved in LGBT rights, I wasn’t entirely comfortable about speaking publicly on LGBT topics, especially on social media. Whenever I would write about or share LGBT related news or stories on social media, I’d question what some of my friends, old classmates, and colleagues would think. But as I continued to speak out about these issues, I lost that self-consciousness and began to be much more comfortable, which is a really great feeling.

How does your involvement in different causes and movements reflect your intersecting identities?

Sometimes the most effective thing you can do when you’re involved in a cause / movement is intersect it with something you’re good at. It’s great to see people grow into activism by doing what they do best; journalism, film, art, etc. When you combine two passions, it can really make your work effective since you’re so dedicated to both.

As I started to pick up an interest in LGBT rights, I did the same thing, using my skills to make a difference. Equaldex really brings together a lot of my “identities” and passion; LGBT rights, web development, product design, entrepreneurship, graphic design, UI design, and marketing. I think that’s why the project is coming together so smoothly and why I’m so passionate about it. I’ve also been very vocal about LGBT rights on social media and by writing about LGBT news on blogs.

Please describe the evolution and goals of Equaldex.

I began working on Equaldex back in 2009. After graduating college, I put the project on hold for a while, and picked it back up in the past year or two. It’s been a slow process, but now I’m working at full speed. Back in August, as I said, I launched an alpha version of the site. In the coming month or so, I’ll have a public-facing version of Equaldex live. Equaldex will began with just the legal rights of LGBT people in each country and region, but in the future I have plans to expand Equaldex to more aspects of LGBT rights and acceptance. The goal of Equaldex is to become a comprehensive knowledge base for everything about the LGBT movement.

Which issues do you see as common to cisgender sexual minorities and transgender people? Which issues are different? Which issues are critical to these communities?

Education is always an important factor in fighting discrimination, but I think it’s even more so for the transgender community. People don’t understand what it means to be transgender, what they go through, how they feel, the legal issues they face, etc. It’s an issue that needs some light. One issue I see a lot online is a divide between the LGB and T communities. There are too many LGB people that are actually transphobic, and I’ve experienced a lot of divide and hostility between the two communities, which really needs to stop.

Within activism movements, what are some ways to continue to forge connections among people from diverse sexual, gender, ethnic, and religious groups?

The growth of the internet and social media really brings people together. People in different groups come together over shared interests, and many times traits like age, location, sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, religion don’t even matter.

Another issue I see a lot, especially in younger people, is that they often say or do hateful things towards a group of people because they don’t really know anyone in that group of people. Maybe they grew up in an environment where their parents or friends made a few hateful comments and without much though, they just assumed that that was an acceptable way to act. So when they say these things, none of their friends challenges their opinions. On the internet, opinions can be very public and open to criticism, which is sometimes a really good thing.

Sometimes all it takes is exposure to other types of people to grow to accept them. That’s the beauty of the internet. Sometimes you don’t know if you’re talking to a 23 year old Black lesbian or a 43 year old Asian woman. And the truth is, if you’re having a conversation over the internet about some topic, it probably doesn’t even matter.

I hear what you mean about common interests being unifying across social locations but I am also thinking about the powerful impact social identities can have on the way a person experiences a situation, especially regarding power, privilege, and oppression. I am also thinking of intersectionality; for example, a queer person of color’s experience may be very different than a queer white person due to institutionalized and interpersonal racism, and a person with a disability who has greater access to financial means may have a different experience than someone with a disability without those means.

How have you seen power, privilege, and oppression affecting LGBTQ+ activism?

I can’t think of specific examples off the top of my head, but traits like a person’s oppressions or feelings of [a lack of] privilege definitely play a role in their activism. I think it completely depends on the person. When someone is dealing with a lot of social struggles, such as bullying, racism, sexual harassment, etc., it can really motivate them to stand up for others and be a strong activism to stop others from having negative experiences like their own. The It Gets Better project is a good example of this, as it caused thousands of people to speak out about their past experiences and how they were bullied and oppressed. But I think sometimes these other power/privilege/oppression factors might have a reverse effect, causing a person to feel fear and self-conciousness about the issues and not wanting to speak up about it.

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