By Stephen Dinan, founder and CEO of The Shift Network
With this recent landmark Supreme Court decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, we’ve crossed a critical threshold in banishing one of the last legal forms of discrimination in America. There’s a sense of inevitability now even among opponents that gay marriage will become the law of the land.
A few weeks ago, for example, we saw a prominent gay “conversion ministry” group disband, with a quite touching and important public apology (read the letter here).
It’s a moment for real celebration – humanity is evolving! We’re making progress on opening our hearts and honoring the love and divinity even in those who are different than us.
For me, the question now becomes, “How we can help to heal the past and move to the full embrace of gay people and, perhaps even more importantly, the full range of ourselves?”
As I think about this, I remember my close high school friend Joe – one of the casualities of discrimination. He was a bow hunter, devotee of Dave Letterman, fellow swim team member, class trickster, and afraid to come out as gay to anyone until college. He shot himself when I was 21. He never felt he could live in the north woods of Minnesota as his authentic self – and didn’t feel drawn to big cities. I still well up with tears thinking about this.
Another long-time gay friend just passed recently – a beautiful, wickedly funny, service-oriented Breathwork practitioner named Glenn. I still remember holding him in Breathwork sessions as he faced his own inner demons and scars.
So as it becomes evident that we are now going to close the legal discrimination in relatively short order, how do we heal the hearts, not only of gay people but those of us who have ourselves been hurt by the discrimination indirectly, with lost friends, marginalized relatives and parts of ourselves we may have suppressed for fear of appearing too effeminate (or masculine) in a gay-phobic culture?
One aspect is to really face the past horrors with an open heart. I applaud Time magazine for featuring an article recently on a disastrous fire in New Orleans in 1973 at the Upstairs Lounge that killed some 32 gay man and was met with a reluctance of the city to even host memorials for the dead, much less give it official mourning.
Another is to celebrate gay people more in popular culture. On a recent America’s Got Talent, one of the most touching and powerful moments came when a young contestant named Jonathan shared that his family had kicked him out of the house for being gay and then he proceeded to ROCK the house with an operatic song that brought everyone to their feet. AGT poured out the love that he hadn’t received at home. Watch it here (and share it as it was a powerful moment).
On a still more personal level, it means being a good friend and ally to gay people, who still face so much misunderstanding. At the Shift Network, we have several gay faculty several gay staff or consultants and yet many still opt to not be publicly gay as part of their identity in the Network. Even here, with encouragement and support, it can be tough to be fully out and proud.
So here are some things that I’ve been doing to mark this turning point in history:
- Sending notes of congratulations to the gay people I know to celebrate this moment, sharing my appreciation of them and the role they play in my life and our world. I encourage all of us to convey the message now “You are loved” in a particular strong way to gay people, who have so often felt the bite of hate and judgment.
- Attended the Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco last Sunday with my wife and a gay friend. Let’s make these sorts of events something we do WITH our gay allies rather than just be supportive from afar. It was a blast.
- Continuing to make Shift Network as friendly and supportive as possible, with more support of gay acceptance at all levels internally and externally
- Being supportive of anyone who is coming out and needs an ally in that process. Or an empathetic ear to clear experiences of discrimination.
- Made a financial contribution to a gay-focused group to help advance this work still further. In honor of my high school friend Joe, we made a company contribution of $1000 to “It Gets Better”- focused on supporting LGBT youth and preventing gay youth suicide (make you contribution here).
So if you’re straight and you haven’t already made a special effort to embrace (literally and figuratively) the gay folks you know and make them feel welcomed and loved, let’s do that now as part of cleansing the scourge of discrimination from our culture and moving into a more sacred world in which all are embraced as the divine beings they are.
The Catalyst is produced by The Shift Network to feature inspiring stories and provide information to help shift consciousness and take practical action. To receive The Catalyst twice a month, sign up here.
This article appears in:
2013 Catalyst - Issue 11