Tolerance and Diversity: Part II 


 Two of my favorite movies about the U.S. Presidency are Dave and a movie that Ethan mentioned in his comment yesterday, The American President. (I’m also a little partial to My Fellow Americans, because how can you not love a movie with Jack Lemmon and James Garner.) But I’m off topic.  I wanted to use the quote from The American President that Ethan used because I think it makes an excellent point:

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the “land of the free”. 

I’ve always loved that quote and I’m glad that Ethan brought it up.  The American President came out at a time when flag burning was the hot topic of conservatives to rant against.  They even proposed a constitutional amendment to make it illegal.  Now the hot button topic is gay rights, particularly gay marriage and conservatives again are calling for a constitutional amendment to prohibit it.  The reasons amendments like these would never pass is because all of the 27 amendments to the constitution guarantee rights and protect them, none take away rights and legalize discrimination.  Again, I’m a bit off topic, so bear with me.

The point I’m making is that LGBT issues are in the spotlight right now.  We are finally becoming more accepted by American society, especially outside a few pockets of staunch conservatism.  In order to continue gaining ground, we need to make more allies ryan enemies.  We need them not only as friends who can offer love and support but as critical community members to further our cause. As much as we wish to fight our own battles, it is often our allies in the majority who have chosen to fight for the minority cause who can have the greatest impact. They can serve as intermediaries, given the time and space to say and be heard saying the same things that the minority group has been preaching for years. And it is only through changing hearts and minds in the majority that we can reshape the dominant views that we spend hours debating in LGBT circles. 

In “Is the gay community scaring away our straight allies?” by Mason Hsieh as featured in the Huffington Post and brought to my attention by a friend who received it in a diversity email from his employer Walmart, Hsieh suggest five ways to be better to our allies, particularly the new ones.

  1. View alliances as a continuum.
  2. Leave room for political incorrectness.
  3. Remember the big picture.
  4. Take pride in small victories.
  5. Be an ally to your allies.

And I want to take a closer look at these five suggestions, because I think Hsieh makes very valid points.

1. View alliances as a continuum.

Often allyship is painted as all-or-nothing: If you don’t support all our beliefs, you’re not an ally. We must remember that, like any self-identity, allyship is an ongoing process, made up of small, gradual steps. It is a “becoming” process that grows and develops over time, and not always following a linear trajectory.  I have friends who if I had to agree with everything they believe or they agree with all of my beliefs, I’d have no friends at all.  You will not see eye to eye with everyone.  Even countries who are allies don’t always agree on each other’s policies. So why should we think that our allies must support ALL of our beliefs?  Maybe this would be the case in a perfect world, but we all know that this world is far from perfect.

2. Leave room for political incorrectness.

While checking our privilege and engaging in conscientious discourse are great ways to practice thoughtful and inclusive speech and action, we must leave room for political incorrectness. We have to give people, particularly newcomers to the cause, the benefit of the doubt whenever possible and consider making room for political incorrectness in everyday life. There is a difference between fighting homophobia and scrutinizing everything a person says or believes. While the two are not mutually exclusive, the latter can be tiring and lead you further from what you are actually fighting for.  People who are newcomers to our cause can be ignorant to some of the things we find offensive, so we need to be understanding and educate them in a way that doesn’t drive them away.

3. Remember the big picture.

Pick your battles and keep the bigger picture in mind. I find this true of so much in life.  Some battles just aren’t worth fighting and can be handled with a different tactic.  When discussing difficult or touchy topics, give people room to voice their opinions. Let them say their piece, and rather than formulating a retort for every problematic assertion, step back and listen for the bigger picture. What is the most important part of this discussion?  Quite honestly, we do this everyday.  We don’t need a Pyrrhic victory,  we need new allies.  Pick your battles and know when to use more subtle approaches.  True southerners are known for our way of knowing when to be subtle and when to be blunt.  It’s an art that more people should learn.  Besides, both done correctly just makes us more charming, and some activists (and it doesn’t matter the cause) need to learn how to be charming and not caustic.

4. Take pride in small victories.

Minds are not typically changed overnight or through one impassioned debate. Remember that everyone is on his or her own learning curve, and that small steps in the right direction are still steps.  For all the teachers out there, you know how true this is.  We don’t get many victories, but the small ones are worth our weight in gold.  I’m not an out and proud gay activist, mainly because I’m a closeted teacher in a small private school, but I also don’t tolerate derogatory speech in my presence.  It’s a small way that I am helping.  I do my best to teach tolerance, often I use religious lessons (because I can and its something these kids have been taught to respect) to get my point about tolerance across.  It’s a small victory, but it’s a victory.

5. Be an ally to your allies.

Standing up for a community that you are not inherently a part of can be scary and leave a potential ally feeling vulnerable. Welcome newcomers, make room for them in your circles, and remember that alliances go both ways. Support your supporters.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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