I'm not going into depth about this whole Chick-Fil-A debacle. No matter how you slice it, this company has become the lightning rod for bigger and more important conversations. I am sure they are far from the only company that does not support gay marriage. They were just the only ones naive enough to openly say it. And for that, I actually give them credit because they spoke their truth. And I fully support their right to say whatever they need to say because despite the fact that I disagree with it, expressing opinions is important. I am actually disappointed that instead of this turning into a teachable moment for millions of Americans, we are sniping at each other about "rights" and "liberties".
What's more important? Having a tantrum about the right to free speech or having a conversation about why, in 2012, the gay community is still shrouded in mystery for so many. We fear what we do not understand and I wholeheartedly believe that is the bottom line here. I have grown up in New England in what is a surprisingly liberal and progressive state - CT. Despite our reputation for being Cranky Yankees, we are as a whole a remarkably informed and open majority. We have legalized gay marriage and medical marijuana - two things that you won't find in the majority of states. I think here in New England being a smaller state is in our best interest as it forces us to directly face the actual individuals effected by our laws, beliefs, attitudes, and societal mores.
As a kid I was clueless about what it meant to be black or Hispanic or gay because I was always taught that we are all the same. Not even necessarily taught by my parents, but by my peers and my teachers and the world around me. We may have hate groups here in my state but they are small and secretive because they are not welcome in or tolerated by the general populous.
I believe the real root of the Chick-Fil-A debate is that despite all the information and education there remains a vast fear of homosexuality in this country. This restaurant has given a voice to a surprisingly large segment of the American people who remain trapped by their own fear of something they know nothing about. I am a little embarrassed to admit this...but...I watch Big Brother. I know! Stop judging me! I have a point! On BB (oh yes, I'm using the lingo!) there is a contestant named Danielle Murphree, a nurse from Grant, Alabama. At 23 years old, she had never met a gay person (at least not to her knowledge). Let me just repeat that real quick - 23 years old, did not know a single out and proud gay person. Because in Alabama, being openly gay is not safe. Not unpopular, not awkward, dangerous. Let's be honest - people are still being killed for being gay in the United States in 2012.
The point of this BB Moment is that Danielle Murphree had her first encounter with a lesbian, Jen Arroyo, a 37 year-old musician from Brooklyn on the show. I give Danielle a lot of credit because during an on-camera interview she openly admitted before coming to BB she feared lesbians and gays, but after spending a few days with Jen she understands that all lesbians and gays are doing is being themselves and by the way, they're so nice! Like, OMG! I love them now! (Seriously, she totally said that although maybe not in those exact words.)
She needed that one-one contact with an actual gay woman and the moment she connected with Jen, she stopped seeing her as Lesbian and understood her as human and real. I believe Danielle's experience resonates deeply. She was honest and upfront about her feelings but she was also open to connection. If I could duplicate her experience with every person in this country who has never met an LGBT individual I would. Since I can't let me just say that gay people are not trying to be different. They are trying to be themselves. The best way I can think of to explain it is what if you had to walk around all day, every day, dressed wildly inappropriately and uncomfortably. Let's say you had to wear assless chaps, combat boots, a tutu, and a dress shirt one size too small. Every day. Get up, brush your teeth, don your assless chaps, and head to work or school.
It might not be so bad the first few days but eventually your ass is going to chafe and your muscles will be sore from trying not to rip the too-small shirt.
Now imagine the relief you'd feel when you finally got to wear your trusty jeans and tee-shirt with your comfy flip-flops. So good right? Well, you might find those jeans and tee to be your most comfortable option but the person next to you might prefer khakis or a skirt or dress or sneakers or heels. You have tons of options and you get to go with whatever you're comfortable in and nobody gives a hoot what you choose.
An LGBT person who may appear "flamboyant" or "over the top" to you, is most likely just being their true selves. They genuinely feel comfortable in more feminine or masculine clothing and demeanor. You don't think twice about the way your voice sounds or what hand gestures you make when speaking. Imagine if you had to police every joke, comment, or bit of body language. All day every day. The LGBT person in the line at Target in front of you undoubtedly has. Possibly for years, possibly for their whole life.
So instead of arguing about first amendment rights, try to shift your focus to what's behind the curtain, what it is you're a little less comfortable talking about. Instead of going on the defensive and getting sucked into constitutional debate, check in with your inner self. Be brutally honest - what is this really about for me? How do I feel about the LGBT community? What do I need to learn? Do I even know a gay person? (Statistically speaking, you totally do, it's really hard not to.) How would I respond to Chick-Fil-A's beliefs if they said they didn't support interracial marriage? Or if they thought Canadians were going to hell for their "lifestyle"?Yet another reason for my epic crush on Jon Stewart.
Start asking questions. Don't be afraid of the answers you may draw.
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