Bush is not the problem, and Bush is not the answer. We are the problem and we are the answer. Why? During his inaugural address, Bush said, "Liberty will come to those who love it!" I see that as our challenge. Do you love liberty? How much?
Are you prepared to stand up, speak out, be visible and seek justice while empowering love through non-violent action? Check in with yourself and ask, "Am I out to everyone in every situation?" If not, what is stopping you? Do you value security over freedom?
If you find yourself thinking, "I don’t think that is necessary," think again. Plain and simple, it is no longer enough to be out to some and not to others. Why? It isn’t working. Consider the consequences. Ponder what happened during the last election and what President Bush proposes for our future. We are seeing his desires actualized on a daily basis as states continue to implement "one man/one woman" for marriage through constitutional amendments.
Our empowerment is not happening because we are giving away our power with our silence. We are held hostage by our anger at others, holding them accountable for changing our lives, when we are not willing to risk what we are asking them to risk. We must take 100% responsibility for our lives today, not tomorrow.
We have to begin to look at who is capable of making the biggest impact. We are.
Need proof? Read further. A Los Angeles Times poll, cited in an article by Deb Price of the Detroit News, noted that Americans knowing at least one gay person are almost four times more likely to support same gender marriage than those who don’t know anyone. That is the good news.
The bad news? A survey of gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals conducted by Harris Interactive for the Human Rights Campaign found that although 77 percent say they are "out," a tiny 4 percent are out to everyone. Deb Price says, "Most gay people are still way too secretive. We’ve got to do more to push beyond our fear and shyness. To win more friends, gay people have to risk being more open. It’s just that easy and just that hard." I agree. What do you think?
Need another example? Read what one Devout Christian says:
"It seems to me that coming out of the closet is the greatest weapon that gays and lesbians have. If my own brother had never come out, my family would never have been forced to confront the deep-seated prejudices we were raised with…My husband and I joined HRC because we believe it’s time for heterosexual Christians with gay and lesbian family and friends to stand up and make our voices heard in support of our brothers and sisters."
Perhaps it is time to heed the words of these wise voices. Many GLBTA (yes, allies too) continue to encounter situations where they are negatively impacted in one way or another by the teachings of many (not all) religious institutions.
That we, the oppressed, hold the key to our freedom is not a new concept. The truth is the key is in our back pocket, but we haven’t found it because we are too busy pointing our fingers at others. We must dare to reach back there, grab it, and unlock the prison doors and walk free. We cannot depend on others to magically hand us the key any more than Rosa Parks could depend on others to invite her to the front of the bus to sit with them. It is important for us to recall that during the civil rights era, rights were won, not given. "Demanding" our rights, however, will not produce the results we want. "Commanding" our rights, through the choices we make, is the key to our freedom. This freedom happens through our willingness to stand up and speak out.
During the civil rights era, Dr. King admonished, "In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." His words ring as true today as they did then. And who is that "friend" about whom he speaks? That friend is you and I. Do you recognize yourself?
Based on the statistics from Harris Interactive, this concept of self-emancipation is one that our GLBT community has refused to embrace. Why? Because we can. We have often been able to have our cake and eat it too. We have perfected the art of remaining invisible while simultaneously holding onto many of the things that we "want" in life. The important things that truly matter, self-acceptance and the integrity that follows, have often eluded us.
We must learn to close the gap that is eating away at our spirit if we are to thrive, instead of merely survive. At the heart of every gap is an underlying belief or story that is limiting us.
One gap is the bait we took for agreeing to be invisible and remain silent. It hooked us hard as we played into the only situation in our society where lying is condoned, blessed, and embraced by all parties concerned. This silent treaty has served no one. We have all suffered, even if unknowingly. We have bloodied ourselves, smashing into the elephant in the living room, becoming more unconscious with each bloody blow to our bodies. We have refused to admit that our silence is our covert participation, and it has cost many their lives. We continue to blame "others" for the spiraling suicide rate of GLBT teen-agers, refusing to accept that our participation was forged through our silence in this disgraceful situation.
What can we do now is the question. Is history destined to repeat? Good people and friends remained silent during Hitler’s regime; good people and friends remained silent during the era of slavery in the United States. Are we willing to allow that scenario to happen again? What will it take to get people of good conscious, friends, to no longer be silent?
The irony is that the values of honesty and personal integrity are taught in our society and religious institutions. Society then denies rights to those GLBTA persons who adhere to these principles. Let’s not use this as an excuse for continuing to hide in fear. If we are interested in learning how to use this opportunity for self-emancipation, we will have to move beyond our stories of victim hood, and we will have to move beyond asking others in society to do what we are unwilling to do. Self-acceptance, taking the risk of being "known," and accepting that we have far more to gain than we could ever lose, have to become our rallying points.
Ask yourself: Are YOU being your authentic self "with each person and with each situation," the same as a heterosexual person would in similar situations? The opportunity in this challenge is to thoughtfully and respectfully consider what each of us can do differently in our lives in order to stand up, speak out, be visible, seek justice, and empower love.
If you have ever wondered, "How do I do that?" here are some ideas to consider:
- Stand UP
Allow your truth to evolve as a natural by-product of your authentic self. Refuse to defend or apologize for who you are. Being GLBT is not a "lifestyle" any more than being heterosexual is a "lifestyle." Call on local ministers and visit with them. Recently, when Robynne, my spouse, and I did that, the minister said, "This is the most interesting conversation I have had in a long time. Would you come meet with me so we could talk further?" He shared that he had never met anyone like us; he literally did not realize we existed except in the mythological and pathological version that he had been taught. During our encounter, a seed of renewal was planted in both him and us. We each will never be the same.
- Speak OUT
Be authentic and answer honestly; seek to discover the voice of your inner truth and speak it! Most people in society don’t "cover up and hide" a relationship of value of any kind. Check in and see if you are doing that. Concentrate on truth telling rather than cover-ups. Hey, if it didn’t work for Nixon, why do we believe we will fare any better?
Visit, rather than avoid, your parents and your family members, and do share about your life … your REAL life … not the one you wear as a mask to earn a love that is based, not on "who you are," but on "who you are not." Take the risk of having them know you and give them an opportunity to ask questions. You may indeed provide them a space in which to grow in ways neither of you ever imagined! If you have a significant other, use their name and request that your family do the same. Request times for getting to know one another. Act as if you have every right to do this, because you do. If your family is abusive, physically, emotionally, or spiritually, draw appropriate boundaries. Refuse, however, to give up hope on them. Giving up hope only holds a person hostage to the manipulation, which is already harming them. Dr. King best modeled this principle when he never gave up hope on George Wallace.
- Be VISIBLE
Allow friends, neighbors, church friends, family, and business associates to witness your same gender "authentic love and care" for one another. If this is what they mean when they refer to our "lifestyle," then isn’t it time that the United States, particularly the 50% of Americans who have been divorcing, adopted it, rather than attacked it? As well, isn’t it time that we exposed our children to this "lifestyle of love and caring commitment," so that they will grow up feeling as if they have a genuine opportunity to experience a healthy and empowering relationship that lasts? Many of us can model that for our youth, no matter what their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
Introduce your partner/spouse/significant other/date at church or other social activities in such a way that others understand you aren’t "just friends." Hold hands like other couples do when they care about one another. If people ask if you are single, and you are gay or bisexual, practice until you can naturally and without hesitation say, "I am currently single, but if you know a wonderful kind, compassionate and spiritual woman/man, I would love to meet her/him!" Isn’t that what the other part of society does when they are available for dating? It isn’t about sex; it is about sharing and caring and getting to know another human being. Let people know you are open and available for relationship with a same gender person. Friends and acquaintances are still our best source for introducing potential dating partners. If others ask if you are married and you are (yea for those who have chosen to be "legal"), or if you are in a committed relationship, answer "yes." If you are a man and they say "What is her name?" reply "His name is ____________" and vice versa.
- Seek JUSTICE
Participate in some form of non-violent activism that seeks justice for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons. Allies, this is your time to step up to the plate too. Consider joining Soulforce (www.Soulforce.org) to confront rhetoric that is spiritually violent and at the root of oppression against GLBT.
Participate in your state’s GLBT Lobby Day. I can’t think of a better way to spend time than talking with legislators in my home state of Washington. Consider doing the same. Your state legislators are voting on the laws that will affect all of us. Meet and greet them, utilizing this opportunity to make a difference for our society. You will be offering a personal face to GLBTA persons, so that the term "those people" takes on a new meaning.
- Empower LOVE
Allow others’ fears to be your guide for extending love. Roby and I were faced with a petition being passed around by some neighbors shortly after we moved there, after sharing that we were getting married at the end of the month. Although many had initially seemed welcoming, the fear of a few began to take hold of the entire neighborhood. What an opportunity it was! Thinking of what we had spoken in our recent wedding ceremony "We vow to change the world through the expression of our love," I took off work one morning, went to the florist and bought roses. I then went door-to-door, offering a rose and an invitation to dinner at our home that weekend. Having received not one definite "yes," I went back the next day with a printed invitation that included at the bottom, "How can we change the world if we don’t know our neighbors?" Our home was packed for our neighborhood gathering. While we are on our journey, Gay Into Straight America, guess who is taking care of our home? Yes, our neighbors. Various ones are taking a month at a time to care for our home while we are gone.
People reflect back to us who we are, or who we are not. If we feel confident in our acceptance and love of ourselves, in general, people will reflect that back to us. If we approach them in fear, most likely we will receive that back. Roby and I view fear as a "call for love," and have decided that we are open to both giving and receiving love.
President Bush referred to oppressed people throughout the world in his inaugural speech, assuring them, "When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you. " Let’s see if he means it. Let’s see if he means "us."
I remind myself, however, that it is not just about "us." Many people from the civil rights era stand with GLBT persons because they can never erase Dr. King’s words, "Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality."
Being invisible and standing for liberty are not congruent. The two are diametrically opposed positions. Do you understand what your silence is costing all of us? Consider this a call to action, a plea for not one of us who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender or ally to remain invisible and silent any more! In order to acquire freedom, the time has come to call upon our friends and to put our words into action.
When Rosa Parks changed and said, "No more," the course of history changed because it had to. We, along with our allies, must become empowered in this manner. Rosa Parks showed us the way through the power of one. Let us choose to live that principle, making it dance in a way that would make her proud.
It is time for us to become wind changers, by becoming the wind and changing the finger of the decision maker who has his/her finger up to check the wind. Join us! Become a Stand UP Speak OUT Wind Changer. It is time to summon our courage and be bold. It is time to envision and accept that we are the answer, and we are the solution!
Learn as if you were going to live forever. Live as if you were going to die tomorrow. — Mahatma Gandhi
Dotti Berry is a Life & Relationship Coach who is finishing her doctorate work in Human Sexuality at Widener University. Visit her website, GLBT Coach. Dotti & her spouse, Robynne Sapp, were legally married March 7, 2004, in Portland, Oregon. Their civil wedding license was voided a year later by the State. Their spiritual ceremony was July 31, 2004. They are currently on a yearlong journey, Gay Into Straight America, the initial project of their non-profit, Stand UP Speak OUT, Inc. Their intention is to engage hearts and minds, create authentic connections, and dissolve differences that separate us.