Imagine a chasm. Deep and dark. On either side are people-separated by fear, mistrust anger and suspicion. Both sides convinced of their own rightness and holding the other side in contempt. This could be any group of people in conflict. An alienated couple. An old family divide. The reds and the blues. But my focus here is the divide between those who oppose marriage equality for gays and lesbians for religious reasons (one of the two largest predictors of support for Prop 8), and the LGBT community.
Here are a few thoughts on the subject of bridge building between these two "sides" from my perspective, as a therapist, a student of theology and spirituality and a lesbian.
What Kind of World Do You Want?
The song by Five for Fighting says it all: "What kind of World Do You Want? We might agree that we all want a world of peace where our children can thrive-but we don't agree on what constitutes that peace. The truth is, none of us will have a world the completely reflects our personal ideals or beliefs. The ability to live in peace with people and cultures we don't understand or agree with is perhaps one of our greatest challenges today.
We can start by finding common ground.
Whether you are a double minority with an immigrant and religious background, or part of a religious group(many of which oppose gay rights); you probably have a connection to history as a minority in the distant or not so distant past. What all minorities have in common is the experience of oppression and marginalization by the majority culture. As minorities, we have all been "outside the circle" of the mainstream. We have all experienced being different. And we have all fled some form of persecution or discrimination, in search of our freedom.
Our common ground as minorities.
We can trace the origins of many of our religious denominations today, back to small, minority religious groups that endured persecution and discrimination from the larger majority from which they differed. From the days of the Old Testament and the enslavement of the Jews, to the persecution of the Christians by the Jews, to the protestant reformation movement in Europe. These religious groups, many of which are now part of the dominant culture, once suffered religious and economic persecution at the hands of the majority in power.
Our history here in the U.S. alone is replete with examples of religious and political refugees. What began with a movement to flee the religious persecution of the homeland and find freedom and liberty in the New World often spiraled into a kind of repeat of the same old story.
Our common cultural history of marginalization.
Cultural enclaves and ghettos in the U.S. grew out of the need for affordable housing for new immigrants and created a kind of insulation for minorities to continue their cultural traditions and community while embarking on the journey of building a life in their new country. Irish, Catholic, Italian, Polish, Jewish, Chinese, African slaves, emancipated slaves (who were not immigrants in the voluntary sense); each new group of immigrants bore the brunt of this prejudice, labeling and demonization. Many were fleeing political and religious persecution.
The LGBT community of course did not come by boat. But like other refugees from persecution , they emerged from the small towns and parishes all over this country where they were hidden in the secrecy and silence of the closet. WWII and the opportunity to travel broke down the barriers of isolation, silence and created connection to greater community. By flocking to urban areas that provided the protection of anonymity, cheap housing and association with other gay and lesbian people-a visible community could be born. Heterosexism was and is still an oppressive force for LGBT people, but community afforded a kind of affiliation that instilled a new sense of empowerment.
Click here to read What is Heterosexism?
Our common desire for freedom
Minority groups as they developed into cohesive and organized communities, become more vocal and more active in advocating for their rights. Religious and ethnic minorities, and sexual minorities have all followed their own path towards the pursuit of equality. The cycle of cultural awakening for a minority group moves from dis-empowerment and invisibility, to vocal organization and advocacy. Once organized, these groups engage in long and difficult journeys towards gaining freedom and equality.
Resources for this Article and Recommended Reading
Can the love between two people ever be an abomination? Is the chasm separating gays and lesbians and Christianity too wide to cross? Click here for a documentary addressing these issues: For The Bible Tells Me So
For more information on the factors that predicted voter positions on Prop 8 : ABC News
Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present
by Neil Miller by Advocate Books
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