Thursday, February 9, 2012

Different Perspectives and Bridging Divides

Different Perspectives and Bridging Divides
Tony E Hansen
12 Dec 2011
Listening to outsiders talk about the LGBT rights struggle is fascinating, sometimes irritating even, to learn about their perspective of what the gay community is and what they think of the struggles we face in life.  Of recent, I have been a part of a couple discussions where people expressed opinions about the gay rights struggle.  Some of the remarks resembled the dispositions revealed by some of the candidates running around Iowa. The question is to wonder why people do not recognize the struggle and how do we reach people who have such varied notions of the LGBT community.  The inaccurate and destructive characterizations of rights and the community lead to stereotypes that endanger not only the LGBT community but also of the whole society. 
Hearing candidates, like Representative Bachman, refer to equality as “special rights” gives an indication that some people feel that recognition of rights somehow validates a superior position in society rather than an attempt to equalize society. We are not asking for “special rights”. Instead, we are asking to enjoy the same opportunities and liberties that everyone enjoys without prejudice.  Do we really want a tyranny of the majority with respect to liberties, and if she is arguing “special” rights, which rights are “special” that some are excluded? Equal rights are not privileges, and expecting equal treatment is not horrible but is, instead, American.
Another misconception: Gays can simply hide the differences where, say, black people cannot. That is no different than religious expression since I can simply be silent when someone makes a remark about my religion. Yet, the remark has the same type of impact.  One even suggested no one has ever died for gay rights like people have for civil rights. I had to point out that LGBT people know, too well, that people are brutally killed simply because of homosexuality and some LGBT are so distraught by their orientation that they commit suicide.   Such statements clearly indicate that the worlds these people live are far removed from what the impact of discrimination and ostracism can do to real people’s lives.  Examples of people impacted by such treatment will help to understand the reality of discrimination.
Another discussion point that was raised mis-characterized LGBT people as a group of wealthy and pampered partiers without morals or discipline. Unfortunately, I, like many other LGBT people as well as my straight allied friends, have to go to work and pay bills.  We have families to support and goals to achieve. There may be wealthy LGBT as there are wealthy straight people, but using a type of class warfare to attack the gay community may say more about the accusers’ own work ethic and fiscal discipline. The vain attempt at connecting class warfare to LGBT equality struggles suggests they are losing faith in their arguments.
Oddly enough, the context or importance of equality and the features of the LGBT community are challenged from members within the community almost as much as from outsiders.  A healthy debate about life and processes is beneficial to all, but why are members of the LGBT community so interested in causing more grief, mockery and hostility from within the community?
There is, as well, this notion of a “gay agenda” that is perpetuated by a spooked religious base that suggests this so-called “gay agenda” will destroy civilized society. Every time I hear someone speak of this “gay agenda” idea, I think of my Outlook calendar with work appointments, concerts, breakfasts, church events and such. Yet, nothing in there vaguely resembles homicidal or criminal ventures or even bad intentions (unless the occasional party is a crime).
These examples illustrate how disengagement can provide room for incorrect stereotypes to grow unfettered by reality.  We need to reduce these stereotypes by engaging people and showing them what reality is. By engaging, we help to bring down the barriers that have encircled our community because of those stereotypes.   Our society is a mixture of many different cultures, religions, ethnicity, opinions and classes.  The LGBT community is reflective of that diversity as well. We must remember that their religion is not the only way to worship, and they (whoever “they” is) do not own the truth.  By engaging people in civil discussion about mutual interests and mutual concerns, people will be more inclined to relieve some of those false stereotypes in favor of the real examples before them. 
There will always be people who will never change their mind, but that is not who we need to engage.  We know that most people are decent (especially in Iowa), and we are willing to let people live in peace.  There is a majority of people that are good and willing to grow. Those people need to realize that we have mutual interests in having civil society and equal opportunities. Those are the people who have heard the wrong stereotypes for far too long.  Those are the people that need to understand and want to understand that there is more to the issue than ranting and bashing from the pulpit or soapbox.  Those are the people that must realize that “an injustice against one is an injustice against all”.