Saturday, March 27, 2010

On the Hope Inherent in Opening One’s Mouth

I was in the Dollar Store a few days ago, browsing through their movies, looking for something that the kids might enjoy watching. Mostly the Dollar Store has things of interest to teenagers… horror movies, action/suspense, Kung Fu, tasteless comedy… but it also has some decent children’s things occasionally… It’s a Big Big World, Dragontales, movies with cute animals… so I check out the rack once a month or so. There, between the cute animals and the grimacing people firing guns, was a lone copy of Milk. For $6. So naturally I bought it.

Milk, starring Sean Penn, is about Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay man in the U.S. to be elected to major political office, in 1977. (The first openly gay person to be elected to public office in the U.S. was Kathy Kozachenko, who was elected to city council in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1974. And Elaine Noble was elected to Massachusetts state legislature in 1975.)

I laughed, I cried, I got indignant, I rolled my eyes like a ten-year-old at the romantic/sex scenes…. It was a great movie. (It definitely earned its “R” rating. The kids haven’t been interested in watching it yet, but we might conveniently skip a few scenes when they do.)

Harvey considered it a political act for people to come out openly as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). He firmly believed that if people knew that they knew someone who was LGBT, then it would be easier for people to accept them as deserving of the same civil rights and basic human respect as everyone else. I think he was right.

I have come to the conclusion that it is also a political act to come out openly as a supporter of people who are LGBT. As I have begun talking to folks in my own meeting and beyond about my concern that LGBT folks need to be accepted as co-equals, the vast majority of folks have nodded, and explained that they had already quietly come to that conclusion themselves. On the one hand, this has been very reassuring. On the other hand, it has been a little troubling.

Right now, today, there are people in the United States who will tell you with a straight face that homosexuals merit the death penalty, because God has said so (see Leviticus). I’ve met them. One of them explained that he didn’t think he could ever carry out such a death sentence himself, but he would not work against any legislation prescribing the death penalty for homosexual behavior, if anyone ever proposed such a law. Now, here is the thing that is both horrific and hopeful about the people I know who have said this: They are really nice folks. Given the opportunity to think about what they believe, I think that most of them would willingly and gladly find a way in their hearts to move, literally, to a Live and Let Live position. (Sooner or later, I hope… although I haven’t convinced anyone yet.)

This is what is so troubling about all those quietly accepting folks that I have met. They may never personally do anything to cause hurt to LGBT folks, but they will never give a nudge to the folks who are overtly hostile to LGBT folks either. Harvey Milk was right; when folks come out, it gives other people the opportunity to think about their own assumptions regarding gays. When non-gay folks come out as supporting the equal dignity and worth of LGBT folks, it gives other people the opportunity to think about their own assumptions regarding what is an appropriate “straight” attitude. (For this reason, I am also openly against abortion… I hope that when I say I support the equal dignity and worth of unborn babies, that it can help people think too… )

Being an open supporter of LGBT folks is as important as it was in 1978. Some things have gotten significantly better. Some things haven’t changed much: “They go to the bars because churches are hostile” (Harvey Milk). As a Christian, that was just about the saddest thing I’ve ever heard anyone say. God sent Christ for everyone. We are all the beloved children of God. So we live in hope… we have faith in things not seen… we dream that if we speak the Truth in love, the Truth will pour down like waters on the whole wide wonderful world, and every tear will be wiped away. Speak the Truth in love. We are all the beloved children of God.

Oh yeah. If you haven’t seen Milk yet, I recommend it.