Yosi Sergant: Manifest Equality

3.1.2010

By Dustin Fitzharris

So leaving the position was more important than staying to bring about that positive change?
It became clear to me that through the attacks and the pressure that was being put on me from the conservatives inside and outside of government that I would be more effective doing what I do here.

What did you learn about our society through that experience?
It just reinforced what I knew: Fear and ignorance exist. There are people who are attracted to it and use it to feed on that fear to isolate, alienate, and segregate. And then there are people who do their best to alleviate that fear. [My experience with the NEA] made me proud of the upbringing that I had that taught me there is a place for everybody and every conversation.

Was there anything you discovered about the kind of work you do?
I learned that what I was doing was impactful enough to be put on the radar. I believe it was a clear signal that people understand the power of cultural expression and people understand the ability that art can move mountains. It made me all the more confident that the work I do is necessary, and that we can affect real change within our neighborhoods.

Who are some of your inspirations?
Yitzhak Rabin, the former prime minister of Israel. He was a military leader known for being very harsh and angry. He was not liked. In fact, he did things that made his own people not proud. Then when he got older and as he had perspective of time, he learned that there was only one way to proceed and that was through engagement and peace.

You even worked with him in 1996 as the student coordinator in Jerusalem for OFEK, the student arm of the Labor Party. Did you admire him after he gained perspective or before?
Oh, way, way, after. I share the same opinion of Yitzhak Rabin as many do. It was that shift. It wasn't an admiration of him that I looked to. It was the change in perspective. It was the ability for someone to come to understand that even at the end of a life, we are all able to change.

Once Manifest Equality concludes, what's next for you?
I think I'm in this fight for a little while. I think this is a very winnable issue. I think we can change 'don't ask, don't tell.' I think we can pass the Non-Discrimination Act. I think we can bring marriage equality across the country.

After all that you have done, what are you the most proud of?
That's a hard one. I'm proud that I'm able to get up each day and not talk about doing the work, but actually do the work. That's a shift that happened in my life a few years ago. I went from talking about doing it to actually doing something.

What brought about that shift?
It was about understanding that we have a limited amount of time and a lot to do. My father had a moment where his mortality became apparent. Then all of our mortality became apparent to me.

Is he OK today?
Yes. He's been helping me with Manifest Equality, just like my entire family has. And again, this is the first time my family has been engaged in a conversation for equality. It's not something that has been a priority in their lives, but I do the work and they come along with me. I also do the work because you never know when you put down a flyer, or do a show if the next Harvey Milk is going to pick it up or attend.

Manifest Equality runs March 3-7 at 1341 Vine St., Los Angeles. To learn more, visit ManifestEquality.com.

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