Friday, October 11, 2013

A Lesson in Bravery

I am not gay.  As a non-gay person who supports gay marriage and gay rights, I have seen things changing for the better.  The recent Supreme Court decisions knocking out the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 are exciting and have us, as a country, heading in the right direction.

I am also not na├»ve.  I am not blind.  I see enough to know that things still are not easy for my gay friends.  But because I do not live their experience every day, I sometimes forget.  I forget that it can be a daily struggle to feel accepted by others.  I forget that it can be a daily struggle for them to accept themselves.  I forget that they do not have all of the rights and benefits that I, as a straight person, have.  I forget that they struggle to have their families accepted as “normal” by whomever thinks they have the right to define “normal.”

Recently I have gone through a period in my life in which people have said negative things about me that are not true.  I spoke to my friend Morgan Reid during a time when I was struggling with worry about what people thought of me.  Morgan, at the ripe old age of 20, taught me what it means to be brave.

Morgan is from Pensacola, FL.  Pensacola, ironically, hosts one of the most well-attended gay pride weekends every Memorial Day weekend, yet remains one of the most conservative areas of the country both politically and religiously.

So when Morgan came out in high school, not only did her family struggle with reconciling their faith with her sexual identity, she struggled with it as well.

“My family went through phases.  There was crying, they were very emotional.  My parents are very religious, so they didn’t know how to fit it in with how they saw my life.  They weren’t really sure how to handle it, so we fought a lot,” Morgan said adding that now her parents are completely supportive and were very welcoming to her ex-girlfriend.  “They are pretty good, but it took time.”

Morgan admits that she had to work through how her faith and her life fit together.  She had been taught in Sunday school her whole life that homosexuality was wrong, and she had a vision of gays as being big burly, sharp-toothed men trying to get little children.  While her parents have not discussed how or if they have reconciled their faith with Morgan’s lifestyle, Morgan has reconciled it for herself.

“I have been through a lot of theories on it.  My perspective is, I have been a Christian my whole life,” she said. “ I have been a committed Christian.  I dedicated my life when I was 13.  I have been in church my whole life, and one thing they always told me was that God loves you and God created you and God doesn’t make mistakes.  For a while I thought I was a mistake, and you know, he cursed me.  Now I see it as a gift because I am able to talk to people that are totally against it.  Because of the religious aspect, there is so much hatred from that side because people don’t understand it.  I am not really sure how I feel about the scripture parts of it, but I know that God loves me and that this is part of his plan and He made me a lesbian.  So part of it is talking to people and letting them know God loves them.  I feel like this is just another part of it for me.”

Despite her own struggle with acceptance, despite living in an area of the country that is not accepting, despite being 20 years old, Morgan wants to get involved in the political dialogue. 

“I feel like it is really important because I know if anyone is facing coming out, it’s hard when you live in a country that isn’t as accepting as it should be and if [young people] are anything like I was at their age, information is really important,”  she said.

There are days when Morgan feels empowered and days when she feels discouraged.

“Some days I feel like it’s great and I’m doing an awesome job and making a difference, and some days it’s like, ‘ah man, I’m never going to win,’”  Morgan noted adding, “It’s not always fun, but I don’t feel burdened.  I feel like people have to fight for a lot of different rights.  There’s always going to be something to fight for, and I just think it’s worth it.”

Growing up in a smaller, conservative town has fostered Morgan’s desire to get involved.  She began with her own high school when she petitioned to get a book that was positive about gay marriage put back in the library after it was removed.

“At Milton High School specifically, there was a book that was taken off the shelves.  We petitioned to get it back on the shelves.  It was a book talking about gay marriage, and not in a negative context.  There was a different, really old book that is still on the shelves that calls [being gay] a mental disorder, and that’s been disproved for years,” Morgan said. “They had taken the book calling it acceptable off the shelves and left the negative one.”

Morgan believes that being politically active and letting others, especially young people, know you are there, helps with acceptance.

“I feel like people don’t know,” Morgan said. “As soon as young people know you are out, they kind of cling to you.  They will find you on Facebook, or call you because they don’t know who else to ask.  When you are getting information out there, you are letting them know that it is not as taboo as everyone thinks.”

Morgan said that in her high school, when she came out, teachers became less interested in her plans, her future and who she was.  Before that, she was a favorite among teachers.

“It is a struggle.  I think a lot of people don’t see it that way, but I think the gay community does,” Morgan said. “Really, the only difference between a heterosexual couple and a gay couple is that they have the same parts or different parts.  The love is still there, the family is still there.”

Morgan thinks that the more familiar people become with gays and the less of a taboo subject it becomes the more things will change. 

“I’m pretty sure when you meet someone, you think of them as a human being, but when you don’t know someone, you don’t have to.”
            
            The changes in Washington DC with the recent Supreme Court decisions give Morgan hope.

            
            “I thought I was always going to be on the outside, that people weren’t going to look at me with any kind of sense of worth.  I immediately felt stigmatized after coming out.  You are not really a Christian anymore, you are not really worthy of all of these great things.  You have to work harder for it, and I guess that’s not a bad thing,” Morgan said. “But I guess passing these bills makes me aware that I am not the only one and that people aren’t all the Milton, Pace, Pensacola community.  That everyone won’t look at me the way some people here will.  There is a part of the world out there that will see me as a human being that has potential and has the right to be me and not hate me for it.”

Love is Love

The best reason to attend a wedding is the celebration of the union of the bride and groom…or the groom and groom…or the bride and bride.

This is according to a recent poll conducted by SurveyMonkey in which respondents were asked to share their opinions about how activities at gay weddings compared to those at straight weddings.  In fact, 76 percent of respondents believe it. 

The poll revealed that the people by-and-large believe that gay weddings are basically the same as straight weddings.  Fifty-two percent believe that gay weddings are just as much fun, 73 percent say there is just as much alcohol, 52 percent believe there is as much dancing and 54 percent say the food is just as good.

Beth Auld of South Carolina, who recently planned and stood in as mother of the groom at her nephew’s wedding, agrees that gay couples want the same experience as anyone else when they get married.  She equates helping her nephew plan his wedding to planning her own. 

 “We had a lovely catering company.  If you walked into the wedding, you would never have known it was any different from any other wedding reception,” Auld said, “The ceremony itself was very traditional.  They chose traditional vows.  They did what they chose to do as far as how we proceeded in an out.  It was in pairs and the wedding party came down in twos.”

Auld’s nephew and his husband live in Atlanta and belong to a very liberal, gay-friendly Methodist church.  The church does not condone gay marriage, and instead performs a blessing of a civil ceremony.  Joe and Dan, the grooms, went to Iowa to get legally married, and then had the big church blessing ceremony and reception.

“They had a reading that the church typically does on Mother’s Day,” Auld said. “It was the blessings of different types of families.  We have our core family.  We have our church family.  We have our community family.  We have our world family.  That was really neat because it spoke to the fact that a family is who you make it.  That was really cool.”

Morgan Reid, 20, of Florida, who is gay, agrees that there is little difference in gay and straight weddings.  She said her church does gay weddings as well.  There is a ceremony once a year.  Couples are in a group where ten to twenty people walk down the aisle.

“It’s fantastic, actually.  I kind of love it,” she said.  “It’s a little bit different, but mostly it’s all the same.  Everybody is just as happy, just as excited.  It’s pretty normal.”

Reid noted that as a child, she thought about getting married, but didn’t really have a clear picture.

“When I was a younger, I drew a dress and it was in every color in the world, but I didn’t really have a wedding planned out,” she said. “When I think of it, it would be pretty normal.  I imagine I would follow the tradition that you don’t see your bride before the wedding, stuff like that.  The pre-marriage prayer would be something I would do.”

Both Reid and Auld are encouraged by the recent Supreme Court landmark rulings ending the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 and believe that people’s views on gay marriage are slowly becoming more positive. 

A  Pew Research Center survey in May showed that for the first time, more than half (51 percent) of Americans favor allowing gays to marry and that 72 percent of Americans believe  legal recognition of same-sex marriage is inevitable regardless of their own opinions of gay marriage.  This trend is a dramatic change from 2009 when 37 percent of Americans told Pew Research Center that they supported gay marriage.  Since 2009, eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage bringing the number of states where it is legal (or will be soon) to 12.

“The majority of my [gay] friends want the same thing that everybody wants,” Auld said. “They want someone to love them, someone to respect them, someone to spend their life with and for the most part, children.”

Reid echos that sentiment.

“I will definitely get married,” she said “I am a committed person, a monogamous person.  I want to get married.  I want to have children.  I love kids.  I am a nanny right now because I want to be around children more. There are so many things I want to do.  I am so young and I have time, but I want to squeeze it all in there.” 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Why I am Proud of Daphne High School for Offering Arabic as a Foreign Language

Dear Daphne High School,

I have read the recent article posted on Al.com and would like to express my pride in your decision to offer Arabic at Daphne High School.  I have five children in public school, one at Daphne High School. I am a big believer in public education. Decisions like yours to offer and defend the offering of this course are teaching our children all of the right lessons.

I am raising my children to be be informed, to be open minded, to be tolerant of everyone alike or different, to question authority without disrespecting it. I am teaching them that they have the power to become informed and educated and by listening to others, make decisions on their own. Your decision supports my goals.

Narrow mindedness is bred by ignorance. To listen to those who have said that by teaching Arabic at school, you are teaching "a culture of hate," would be to encourage ignorance in students that limits their abilities to form their own opinions.  Thank you for ignoring that narrow mindedness.

Open- mindedness is taught by exposing children to different people, cultures, and viewpoints. By allowing them access to language and culture from around the world, you are reinforcing the idea that it is okay to be different from each other. Thank you for encouraging diversity.

Tolerance is taught by example. By allowing children access to different culture, language and religion through education, you are teaching them to embrace those who are or believe differently and encouraging open and respectful discussion.  Thank you for teaching tolerance.

Our country was founded by immigrants.  We are a country of many languages, cultures, religions and traditions.  By learning about all of our cultures and roots, by learning about all of our histories, by learning about all of our religions, we teach our children to live with an understanding of others rather than a fear or hatred of them.  Thank you for teaching that understanding makes it impossible to hate.

Providing children information from every perspective gives them the belief and the tools to change their futures and impact the world. By teaching them an understanding and practical knowledge of a different and globally significant culture and language, you are empowering our children to participate in a global market, to embrace a global perspective and to teach others these same skills thereby changing the future...maybe even reducing hate and fear bred by ignorance.

We live in an area with a great deal of diversity and however you believe, it is important for all children to know that anything is possible and barriers of all kinds can be conquered, even the barrier of judging those who are different from you.

Elizabeth Denham