January 18, 2010 at 8:56 am EDT | by Erwin de Leon
Helping Haiti

The breathtaking tragedy in Haiti put things in perspective.

As images of fallen buildings, dead bodies and wailing wounded streamed in, I found it difficult to write — even about the groundbreaking Proposition 8 trial in California. Seeing such devastation took my focus away from my own worries. Our community’s very real struggle seemed not as important.

Like many others, I teared up, thought about what I could do to help, and did what I can. I was elated to find out that the LGBT community has mobilized to help. The Rainbow World Fund, the world’s only lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender driven international humanitarian aid charity, offered a giving alternative that promised to get the funds to those who need it through groups that do not exclude LGBT individuals or discriminate against anyone. The relief agency has been in Haiti since its founding in 2004 and has improved the lives of thousands in the impoverished nation by supporting projects that improve nutrition and develop safe drinking water access. The organization’s disaster relief partner, CARE, has been on the ground since last week, providing emergency food, safe water, plastic for shelters, blankets and basic medicines.

The owners of LGBT cruise companies Atlantis, Olivia and RSVP also have teamed with community activists in a coordinated effort to raise money which will be channeled through the Red Cross.

Haiti has been a regular destination for gay-themed cruises. Judy Dlugacz, the president of Olivia Companies, a lesbian-oriented vacation company, said that “so many of our passengers have been touched by the destruction and poverty in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. It is important that as LGBT Americans, we come together to show our community’s solidarity and support for those living through this unimaginable disaster.” Rich Campbell, the CEO of Atlantis Events, agreed, saying “now is the time for us to lend our gay dollars to a compelling human tragedy that knows no gender or sexual orientation.”

Claire Lucas, a community activist and political fundraiser, also is raising awareness within the LGBT community. She said “the symbolism of a unified, community-based financial response is important” and that it “represents a fitting effort to reach beyond our borders with a message of hope and goodwill from LGBT Americans.”

Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, added that “too often the LGBT community in the United States is portrayed as inwardly focused and unattached to the larger suffering beyond our borders, but we know that to be untrue, and as we watch the devastation in Haiti today, we can also send a message about our community’s larger concern for human suffering.”

In spite of our status as second-class citizens, we do have it much better than others across the world who live on less than $2 a day and are set back all the more after calamities. I’d like to think that our own marginalization and disadvantage — though not as urgent as the dire needs of Port Au Prince survivors — allow us to empathize with the images we see flashed on front pages, cable news and streaming videos.

The humanitarian crisis in Haiti allows us to show the world that we do care and that we do what we can as part of the community. Let’s take this moment to help.

You can follow Erwin on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon

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