For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.
~ Audre Lourde
The other reason I finally felt the need to speak about the collision between marriage equality and the homophobia of some African-Americans is more personal.
The gay men in Bishop Alfred Owens’ congregation who felt they “had no choice” but to participate in the degradation and denial of their own humanity are not alone. It’s a performance that takes place in some form or fashion every Sunday, in black churches (and beauty shops or barber shops, for that matter) across the country, which Michael Eric Dyson captured in his essay “The Black Church and Sexuality.”
One of the most painful scenarios of black church life is repeated Sunday after Sunday with little notice or collective outrage. A black minister will preach a sermon railing against sexual ills, especially homosexuality. At the close of the sermon, a soloist, who everybody knows is gay, will rise to perform a moving number, as the preacher extends an invitation to visitors to join the church. The soloist is,in effect, being asked to sign his theological death sentence. His presence at the end of such a sermon symbolizes a silent endorsement of the preacher’s message. Ironically, the presence of his gay christian body at the highest moment of worship also negates the preacher’s attempt to censure his presence, to erase his body, to deny his legitimacy as a child of God.
… the black church, an institution that has been at the heart of black emancipation, refuses to unlock the oppressive closet for gays and lesbians. …Black Christians, who have been despised and oppressed for much of our existence, should be wary of extending that oppression to our lesbian sisters and our gay brothers.
That performance is the price some of us pay to remain in or part of the communities we started out calling home.
We stay and pay a spiritual and psychological price, because we know the other price is the danger of being without a community, as Dwan Prince’s mother found out after a gay bashing left her son disabled and in need of her care.
She also points to indifference, from politicians and from her own religion. As a member of Mount Olive Baptist Church, Prinez was dismayed when her minister refused her cries for help. The reason: He found out her son is gay, and wanted nothing more to do with her.
Local politicians were helpful when the case was in the news, but once it faded, their calls ceased.
“The people don’t want to hear about it,” Prinez said.
Prince’s mother admits to being pushy and acerbic at times, but wonders what else can she do. Her son was left for dead for no reason and there is no one looking out for his interests. “Who is there to protect him?” she asks.
Prince’s story, and the lack of response from his mom’s minister illustrates a reality that I think probably helped keep quiet any congregants who objected to Wilson’s rantings – and remember, chances are some of those church members were gay or lesbian themselves. Some of us will listen to a homophobic rant like that, whatever the cost to us emotionally or spiritually, and still come back to church the next Sunday; and even pay our tithes, play the organ, and sing in the choir.
It’s not a huge secret that the black family – and by extension the black church – as long served as a kind of refuge from the racism present in society at large; for a long time, the only refuge. The power of the church – along with a deeply ingrained literalist approach to scripture, along the lines of “God said, I believe it, that settles it” – in both the community and the family creates circumstances under which individuals are required to toe the line of what is accepted moral behavior by the majority, or at least appear to do so, if they want to keep their place within that refuge. Step out of line and you may find yourself “cast out from among your people”; set outside the walls of the fortified city to take your chances, without the protection available within.
Want to stay safely within the walls of the refuge? Then Dwan Prince is an example. Step out of line and you could end up like him, “left for dead” with no one looking out for your interests and no one to protect you. Maybe not even your own family, if it means they’ll have to join you outside the walls of that refuge, where who knows what might happen. So, maybe you bear what you have to bear, and hear what you have to hear, rather than risk facing the rest of the world without a community to turn to when there’s trouble.
Sunday services at Eastern Star Church can draw more than 13,000 mostly black members.
Typically, as the services unfold, a choir gets the congregation clapping and singing. Then comes a hard-hitting sermon.
On one recent Sunday, guest pastor Kenneth Duke told the story of a transvestite weary of homosexuality. Duke said he told the young man that it is possible to leave that life behind, that “all change is possible with God.”
Some attendees murmured agreement. Noell Taylor was not among them.
Like many black gays living in Indiana, Taylor, 25, finds herself in a Catch-22: She wants to keep ties with the spiritual heritage of her childhood, but that often means attending a church opposed to homosexuality.
Or we make a painful break and go, and pay a price either way.
’Those who are familiar with life in the Black church know that we are raised in this paradox; the church is a place we have known since the womb and, so, it is our first cultural experience in the Black community. And it is so much a fundamental part of our lives that even though we are in a place that is often very inhospitable to those who are LGBT, we remain, finding ways to exist within it.’
Johnson talked about the recent phenomenon of Black ministers, like Chicago’s Rev. James Meeks, who are leading the crusade against Black LGBT people while right across the street from Meeks’s Salem Baptist Church is Trinity UCC, whose pastor, Dr. Jeremiah Wright, welcomes and affirms gays and lesbians, inviting them to participate in every aspect of the church, while supporting their decision to live as they choose.
’I finally had to leave the Black church because I refused to be a part of my own oppression, but it’s not that easy for others,’ Johnson said. ’Other churches have begun to spring up, like the Unity Fellowship of Christ Church … . And while you do have MCC Churches, most Blacks I know say that they don’t do it for them-they are affirming but they don’t have the spirit that we need as part of the Black church experience.’
My own path was to put as much distance as I could between me and my community of origin, as soon as I could. Because I came out to myself at an early age (somewhere between 12 and 13) I lived several years knowing that in order to find something close to acceptance, would have to leave. I grew up knowing that I wouldn’t be fully accepted by the same people who had known and loved me all my life. And when the time care to leave for college, I left and never looked back, because during that time a wall was being built between me and my community.
College, for me, meant a chance to finally “come out” publicly. I’d known I was gay since I was 12 or 13, and held on to that secret until I could leave for college at 18. What kept me sane was actually a book that I found at the local library.
Adolesence and puberty were setting in, and I found myself having other feelings for the boys around me, that were stronger and different than before; and another reason not to go into the locker room. It was clear that I wasn’t feeling the attraction to girls that the rest of male peers were – or were claiming to. So, what did I do? There wasn’t really anyone I could talk to. Especially my parents, who would just point me to the bible. So, I started reading. By that time I’d been called “faggot” more times than I could count, and I knew what it meant. But at the same time I didn’t. I wondered “What does it mean if that’s really the way I am?” I went to the public library, this time, took a big breath, and went into the section on homosexuality, once I’d locatd the subject in the card catalog.
In those shelves, I came across a book that I credit with saving my life. Its title was A Way of Love, A Way of Life: a Young Person’s Guide to What it Means to be Gay, and it was written by Frances Hanckel and John Cunningham; a lesbian and a gay man, I presumed. It was the right book for me at the right time. (Just a year or so ago, I decided I wanted it on my bookshelf at home. It’s long out of print, so I searched for it online, and found a copy. It’s sitting on my desk as I write this.) It covered everything; history, names for homosexualty (some of which I’d been introduced to already), sex, puberty, meeting other gay people. What I’ll always remember is that at the end, there was a chapter telling the stories of a dozen other people who were gay or lesbian. They were old, young, single, coupled, etc., and they were all living happy productive lives. By the time I finished reading it, I knew two things: I wasn’t the only one, and a happy life wasn’t out of my reach because I was gay. (I also knew that I had to get out of town. Augusta, Georgia is a pretty conservative town, and at the time it wasn’t a great place to be gay. My big plan was to go away to college and find other gay people there, which I did.)
By then, I guess I’d started building the wall. It was partially up when I started looking at schools. The two my parents favored were historically black universities. One of them was the alma mater of pastor of my family’s church. That was their first choice. Not mine, though. I was looking at schools with an eye towards being able to finally get our of the narrow, constricted space I’d been living in. Going to a school where my parents’ pastor (by then I’d dropped the faith I was raised in, and was pretty much an agnostic) and his wife (who worked at the university) could keep an eye on me. And report back home. So, even though it was in Atlanta — a city I knew had a large, active gay community — I was relieved when it proved more expensive than we could afford.
The other was a small, Baptist college that one of the deacons at my parents church had recommended. Not only did I get accepted, but I was offered a full scholarship — books and tuition. I knew as soon I as visited the campus with my parents that it wasn’t going to before me.
I’d researched colleges, and found one source that included information about gay life on campus. The University of Georgia had a gay student organization. I applied, got accepted, and once I visited the campus I decided it was for me. It was large and diverse enough that there had to be a reasonably sized gay community. My dad’s response was, “I didn’t see a whole lot of black faces there.” Neither did I (the percentage of black students was in the single digits), but that wasn’t what I was looking for.
I ended up at UGA, with my parents’ blessing. I found the gay student group, which was so small that it went defunct by the time my freshman year ended. But it was revived soon after, and started growing. I took an active role, and even became something of a campus activist, eventually becoming co-director of the group, and writing op-ed columns for the school paper. I came out in my first column, and went to bed knowing that by the next morning I’d be out to some 25,000 students.
At college, I found out that being openly gay put another brick in that wall, this time between me and most of the black students on campus. It grew higher and higher. Occasionally, I peeked over the top, and was surprised to find someone else looking back.
I remember during my freshman year of college, there was another young black man who started the same year and lived in my dorm. I noticed him because he caught my eye, and I thought I caught his. But we never talked because we moved in different circles and went in different directions. I came out rather publicly, joined the gay student group, and eventually became a co-director of the group. He pledged one of the black fraternities on campus, and eventually became a brother. I saw him occasionally on campus, and we always seemed to catch each other’s eye, but never spoke.
Then one evening, he walked into a meeting of the gay student group. I saw him, and gave what I hoped was a friendly smile. But I hung back because I didn’t want to make him nervous or think I was making a move on him, and scare him away from the group, because I realized how hard it was for him to be there and how much he really needed to be there. He looked relieved and scared to death all at the same time. He’d heard all the things his minister/family/fraternity brothers always said about people like me/him/us. They were probably echoing in his head the whole time he was in the meeting. I can only imagine he probably feared both the possibility of being shut out of the only world he’d ever known or been prepared to live in and the possibility of shutting off a part of himself he probably always knew was there. He probably knew, as Dwan Prince learned, that being honest about who is was would mean losing the support and protection of the only community he’d ever known.
He hung around for a while after the meeting, and I introduced myself to him before he quickly left. I never saw him at another meeting again. I saw him around campus from time to time, and several months later at an MLK Day march, where I marched with the gay student group and he marched with the black student organizations that jeered at us. Our eyes met that day too, and he didn’t join in their derision of us. I don’t know what happened to him, but my guess is that he went back into the closet and probably stayed there, with the help of his friends, fraternity, brothers, family, and church who did everything they could to keep him there.
Maybe I built it as a means of protecting myself from hurts that I knew would receive no comfort there, but twenty years later it was still there when the time came for me to say goodbye to my father.
Of course, my take on it is somewhat personal. I’m a 37 year old black gay man whose parents are aging. One of them, my father, is dying. I went home a week ago, alone, to be with my family and see my father again. I tried not to go with any expectations, but I guess it’s difficult for a child to ever completely stop desiring his parents’ acceptance and approval. And despite the fact that they didn’t react well to my coming out and have always stated their religious objections to my life, I guess I held out hope.
It started and ended at my dad’s beside. I sat and talked with him for a while after I arrived, and we exchanged I-love-you’s and said some things we needed to say. Then my folks explained me they had not told their friends or our extended family about my “lifestyle” and suggested that they’d rather it not come up during my visit. I attempted to accommodate that, out of a desire not to add to the stress of the situation for the rest of the family, though now I wonder if I should have.
When the time came for me to head to the airport on Sunday, I went in say goodbye to my dad and our last two conversations – within five minutes of each other – ended up with him urging me to find Jesus, get “saved,” and renounce my “lifestyle.” I tried to change the subject the first time, when I went in to tell him I was loading up the car. I tried to avoide it the second time when I went in to tell him I was leaving, until my father tole me he was worried that he wouldn’t “see me in heaven” and that come judgment day I would “lift up my eyes in hell.” And I saw how much pain it caused him to believe that.
And since I know there’s no chance of my adopting his version of his faith, and renouncing my family in the process, I did the only thing I could think of to do. I lied. I lied and told him I would “promise to try,” knowing I have no intention of ever doing so. It may have been the last time I’ll see my father alive, and the only thing I could do to give him what peace I can was to lie to him, so he won’t die believing there’s no chance he’ll see me in his idea of heaven, and being pained by that belief. The only way I could give him hope, as we spoke for what could be the last time, was to lie.
I left angry, not at him in particular, but in large part at a faith that could erect a wall between family. And, yes, there’s enough blame to go around. I was probably too accommodating of my parents over the years, out of fear of conflict, and they couldn’t or wouldn’t consider broadening their understanding of their faith to allow them to accept who I am. At some point we all probably became more comfortable with distance. But I still lay a good bit of the blame at the church door. I think to some degree I always will.
It was the last time I would see my father alive, and the last words he heard from me in this life was a lie. That’s what was required, and it turned out more would be required. Until, finally, I decided it was enough.
There was, naturally, a lot of sadness attendant with with my father’s death and with going home for his funeral, and I was overcome with that as I entered the church and led my mom down the center aisle towards my dad’s casket. And I felt it as I sat on the front row as the funeral service started. I felt it when it was my turn to speak, as I placed Parker’s picture on the podium next to my remarks and touched the ring my husband gave to me on the night he proposed; to have them there with me.
Because, you see, they couldn’t be there with me. Because going home for me has always meant going as a stranger in a strange land. Because home is drenched in the faith of my father and everyone else who populates that place.
Thus, somewhere between the second hymn and the end of the eulogy, my tears dried and sadness solidified into an abiding anger. Because I realized then that, though I would bury my father on that day, I’d actually lost him 25 years earlier – and lost home too – when I realized who I was and decided to live as honestly as I could. And it was because of his faith that I lost him, lost home. It didn’t lose me his love or his pride, but it did lose me my parents’ acceptance and more. It meant that no matter what I did with my life, I would always be deficient, not good enough, in one aspect.
In the end, there’s no refuge. Instead, life gets twisted.
The place where you were nurtured and taught that you were as good as anybody else, and that nobody’s skin color made them better than you, was the place where you were were silently taught in a thousand different ways that you are not good enough, you are less than, and deficient in a way that will contort the faces you knew with an anger you’d never seen directed at you, turn home into a strange place and you into a stranger, and – if you let it-twist your soul until it finally fits into that narrow, twisted place.
The problem is, it never does, though it gets twisted into that twisted place again and again.
After the vote was taken, the packed council chambers emptied into a scene of mayhem in the hallway outside. People chanted, “Take it to the polls” and “We need a new council” while TV cameras swirled among the action. A young African-American man stared flatly at the display with seeming resignation and mumbled to his friend, “This shit breaks my heart every time I see it.”
You get used to it, but it still never fits.
I told all of that in order to go all the way back to the orchestrated hissy fit at the Wilson building in Washington, D.C.
After the vote, enraged African American ministers stormed the hallway outside the council chambers and vowed that they will work to oust the members who supported the bill, which was sponsored by Phil Mendelson (D-At Large). They caused such an uproar that security officers and D.C. police were called in to clear the hallway.
…”We need a new council. They are destroying our youth,” a same-sex marriage opponent, Paul Trantham of Southeast Washington, shouted in the hallway during the ruckus. “Every minister who fears God should be here. This is disrespectful to the nation’s capital. There is nothing equal about same-sex marriage.”
This week, more than 100 black ministers signed a letter to Fenty opposing the measure.
It was one of the oddest moments I can recall, one in which a great step forward on LGBT equality was met with the usual vehement opposition. Odd because, in that instant, most of the people on both sides were black. And most would probably identify themselves as Christian. Yet, one black council member who identifies herself as Christian voted for the measure.
Council member Yvette Alexander, an African-American woman who described herself as a Christian, noted that the Stonewall Democrats’ D.C. chapter, the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, had endorsed her based on the totality of her record in spite of the fact that she does not support same-sex marriage.
“So when I did not agree on that one issue, they did not negate all the good works that I had done. The ministers on the other hand,” Alexander said, “the ministers have really upset me to the point that they have questioned my Christianity, they have questioned my morality.” Alexander said some ministers had threatened to run a Christian against her in the next election.
Even though Alexander voted to recognize same-sex marriages performed outside the district, she added, “I can honestly say I’m still at odds with the issue of gay marriage in the District of Columbia — I still want to learn more about that issue. But I do know one thing, I do know that everybody is equal under God.”
She’s a step ahead of the black ministers raising hell in the hallway outside the council meeting, in terms of being open to learning more. But she may yet learn that there’s a price to pay, if they do run a candidate against her, and focus on the marriage issue.
She may also be light years ahead of the ministers, if she believes that “everbody is equal under God,” because she’s able to recognize the humanity of her gay colleagues on the council and “act like she knows.”
Catania and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) are the two openly gay members of the council, and Catania made it clear that he took offense at Barry’s stance.
“This issue is whether or not our colleagues, on a personal level, view me and Jim Graham as your equals,” Catania said, “if we are permitted the same rights and responsibilities and obligations as our colleagues. So this is personal. This is acknowledging our families as much as we acknowledge yours.”
Barry, visibly upset, fired back that he has been a supporter of gay rights since the 1970s.
“I understand this is personal to you and Mr. Graham. I understand because I have been discriminated against,” Barry said. “. . . I resent Mr. Catania saying either you are a bigot or against bigotry, as though this particular legislation represents all of that.”
Catania replied: “Your position is bigoted. I don’t think you are.”
Actually I think Catania is either being polite, or more generous than the circumstances required him to be. What else do you call someone who advocates discrimination against a group of people because of a shared characteristic or trait, or because they’re different from him? What else do you call someone who essentially says to another, “You are not like me, therefore you cannot have the same rights as me. You cannot have what I have. You cannot sit here. You can sit over there, but you cannot sit here.”?
Because it comes down to just that. Are we equal as citizens? Are we equal as human beings? Either we are or we’re not. And if not, what are we? If anyone should know the implications of that question… anyone who has been treated as less than human and less than a citizen should.
As Horace Griffin points out in Their Own Receive Them Not, the “love the sinner, hate the sin” approach begs more questions than it answers.
Although a black church Christian majority continues to view homosexuality as immoral, some find themselves conflicted with the traditional aspect of identifying homosexuality as a sin. Others attempt to sidestep the issue by resorting to a Christian view of “love the sinner, hate the sin.” Many find this view illogical. If same-sex sexual attraction is or expression is what makes a person gay, then what is being loved? With sexuality being an instrisic part of one’s being, the popular saying has as much success in erality as loving brown-eyed people while hating brown eyes.
The speakers and participants at the rally said they were not motivated by hatred. But the real-life consequences of their speak louder than their words. It says they believe that, because of who I am, I have to expect less and accept less from life, because I am less than – compared to them.
What’s always struck me about the whole “ex-gay” thing is that even at their most benevolent, the best they can offer me is this: being gay means that I have to expect less and accept less from life. Being gay means I deserve less from life. I don’t deserve love, I don’t deserve family. It doesn’t even elevate celibacy or “living a chaste life” to the status of a calling, as it might for the priesthood or monastic life. Indeed,a gay man – “chaste” or not – would be barred from both, based on history. At best, it’s a lifelong burden that you didn’t ask for or do anything to acquire. (That’s pretty much led me to believe that any “god” who’d create such a set-up – on the one hand saying that we should’t exist, and continuing to churn us out on the other – would have to be one sick, sadistic son of a bitch.)
Barry was attempting to take the well-worn path favored by people who want their prejudices legislated, who want to have their bigotry codified, but who also still want to be able to think of themselves as good people, without prejudice, without bigotry or hatred.
But where is the love in advocating discrimination against me and my family, and the consequences it entails? I can’t see any, and that’s why I’ve always believed “love the sinner, hate the sin” is a lie.
There are times when I wonder if we lose something of ourselves by not calling things what they are. Do we give people a pass they don’t deserve, because they are able to hide behind their religious beliefs? When people gather for the express purpose of denying equality to another group of people, what else can we call it but hate?
From a religious perspective, is it really possible to love someone that you don’t see as an equal? Is it possible to see someone as less than equal without hatred, or without at least contempt? If so, how?
From my perspective, either you see me as equal or you don’t. If you don’t, as far as I’m concerned it amounts to hate – and the actions taken to maintain inequality stem from hatred. I don’t care if it’s for religious reasons. If you can’t see me as equal – and treat me as equal – then you have to see me as (even slightly) less than human. You can’t really see me as equal and still deny me equal treatment. That’s called having your cake and eating it too.
I’ve heard all I can stand of “love the sinner, hate the sin.” My gayness is not what I do. It’s a part of who I am – who I’ve always been. It’s what I feel – have always felt – in my heart. Even if I became celibate (giving up my partner and my son), I would still be the same gay person. I would still feel the same in my heart.
My gayness is not something I do. It’s part of who I am, and what is in my heart. Hate it, and you hate who I am. You hate what is in my heart. You hate me.
It’s that simple. Isn’t it?
Call it what you want, but at the end of the day, the results are the same.
Again, back to Leonard Pitts, in a column from 2006 that was written in response to a reader’s letter, suggesting that Pitts himself must be gay, because he writes so forcefully on gay issues.
Anyway, to get back to the point, I’m not here to argue sexuality. I just find myself intrigued by the idea that if you’re not gay, you shouldn’t care about gay rights.
The most concise answer I can give is cribbed from what a white kid said 40 or so years ago, as white college students were risking their lives to travel South and register black people to vote. Somebody asked why. He said he acted from an understanding that his freedom was bound up with the freedom of every other man.
…I know also that some folks are touchy about anything seeming to equate the black civil-rights movement with the gay one. And no, gay people were not kidnapped from Gay Land and sold into slavery, nor lynched by the thousands.
On the other hand, they do know something about housing discrimination, they do know job discrimination, they do know murder for the sin of existence, they do know the denial of civil rights and they do know what it is like to be used as scapegoat and boogeyman by demagogues and political opportunists.
They know enough of what I know that I can’t ignore it. See, I have yet to learn how to segregate my moral concerns. It seems to me if I abhor intolerance, discrimination and hatred when they affect people who look like me, I must also abhor them when they affect people who do not. For that matter, I must abhor them even when they benefit me. Otherwise, what I claim as moral authority is really just self-interest in disguise.
Self interest may well be the driving force behind Barry’s change of heart and vote on marriage. Bishop Owens’ church is in his ward, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there more sizable churches in Barry’s ward – which he says is about 98% black. I’d be even less surprised if the ministers of some or most of those churches sat down with Barry and explained to him that he couldn’t support marriage and hold on to his council seat. (He’d be out of a job, and at this point I’m not sure the man can do much else besides politics.)
So, maybe he struck a bargain with them. He’s definitely striking a bargain with Jason Chaffetz, a White Republican congressman from Utah, who’s intent on turning back D.C. progress on marriage equality, and standing against self-rule.
If the two do break bread, they’ll discover that they share a view that gay couples ought to have the same legal rights as any other Americans, but should not be permitted to marry. They’ll take comfort in the fact that their views are both based on the biblical definition of marriage as a bond between a man and a woman. They’re both happy to point to the fact that President Obama is also opposed to gay marriage.
But the lunch is destined not to be a lovefest. It’s not just that Chaffetz and Barry come from wildly disparate backgrounds or represent very different Americas, although it is true that Chaffetz’s district is 88 percent white and only 25 percent of his constituents have a college degree, whereas Washington is 56 percent black and 45 percent of its residents have a bachelor’s or beyond.
No, the divide that is most likely to keep these two politicians from sharing too many bags of fries is their opposing views on democracy in the city where they live and work. Chaffetz, who sleeps on a $45 aluminum frame cot in his office on the Hill, believes the Founders wanted him, as a member of Congress, to have the ultimate say on anything the D.C. government does. Barry, who lives in a modest apartment in Ward 8, believes the residents of Washington deserve to control their own government, to have a voice in Congress and to join the 50 states as equals.
In one of his “cot-side chats” — online videos that Chaffetz records from the narrow nook where he sleeps — the congressman lays out his opposition to D.C. voting rights, saying that “the Founders . . . purposely excluded Washington, D.C.,” from the basic guarantee of a full voice in our democracy.
Thus, weighing the options, Barry and probably a few black ministers (with thousands of black voters filling their pews every Sunday) will likely form a coalition with a man who does not see them as his equal (at least when it comes to voting representation), because they do not see me as their equal. They may even do so while fully aware of all of the above. They’ll oppose any effort to block their full enfranchisement, but they’ll side with this man — or others just like him — if he can help them keep me in my place, which is just a bit beneath them.
Not only that, but they’ll likely run to him or someone like him (home rule be damned) when the district does something they don’t like, but that might actually help black residents in D.C. with things like HIV/AIDS prevention, because it offends their social conservatism — which, unlike my sexual orientation, is something given to them by white people, hundreds of years ago, with the intention of preaching them out of their humanity.
And maybe that’s part of what it comes down to. Having been “forged in the crucible of difference,” there a choice to be made in the moments when we encounter others, forged in yet another crucible of difference — different, even , from our own — and also identified as outsiders, or “other.” Perhaps it’s merely a reaction, or maybe it’s a conscious choice, but we can either see what we both have in common in out “otherness” and that we can find strength even in our differences from one another, and use that strength to build “a world in which we can all flourish.”
In other words, we can see one another’s humanity, and act accordingly.
Or we can see another’s difference as a weakness we can exploit by saying to men like Chaffetz how we are much more like him than they are. And maybe we can even believe it ourselves, for a while. In Barry’s case, until the next vote for home rule comes up.
Leonard Pitt’s closed his column in response to the reader who asked by he cared so much about LGBT equality, with a couple of paragraphs about Dick Cheney and his daughter Mary that I want reference in closing this series.
I want to include it because it closes one more “easy way out” — that of “tolerating,” accepting, embracing and even advocating for the LGBT person or persons in your family, on your street, or in your community, and stopping there. Not that doing so wouldn’t be an excellent start. It would be an invitation for many broken hearts to finally come home, come as they are, and heal. Unconditionally.
But, as meaningful as that would be, it is still settling for “just us” over justice.
I find it telling that Vice President Dick Cheney hews to the hard conservative line on virtually every social issue, except gay marriage. It is, of course, no coincidence that Cheney has a daughter who is a lesbian. Which tells me his position is based not on principle but, rather, on loving his daughter.
It is a fine thing to love your daughter. I would argue, however, that it is also a fine thing and in some ways, a finer thing, to love your neighbor’s daughter, no matter her sexual orientation, religion, race, creed or economic status — and to want her freedom as eagerly as you want your own.
I believe in moral coherence. And Rule No. 1 is, you cannot assert your own humanity, then turn right around and deny someone else’s.
This means going further than inviting cousin Ricky and his “friend” or aunt Neecie and her “roommate” to the family holiday dinner, or even dancing at their wedding, and being alright with it because it’s someone from your family or ‘hood. You know, someone “real,” not like those other homosexuals. No, this means including the flaming homosexual at work right down to the dykes and transpersons who make you a little nervous, maybe even more than a little — and wanting freedom and equality for them just as much as you want it for you and yours, because it’s just as important as your own.
And that brings me back to Audre Lourde.
Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives there. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.
The master’s tools are intended for very specific work, and they accomplish that work no matter whose hands are wielding them. Their job is not to build our house. And it’s certainly not to dismantle his house, but to continue expanding it. They will do that job whether in his hands or ours.
But if we reach down in ot that place that deep place of knowledge, and see the of that “terror and loathing of any difference,” it does illuminate all our choices. And it illuminates us too so that we can finally begin to see one another clearly.
We can start by choosing to put down the master’s tools, and see that once they’re no longer in our hands they look more like tools than weapons. And seeing that, we can chose not to wield them against one another anymore.