Minnesota made history! We did it! We voted no and did what Dan Savage, sex advice columnist and co-creator of the It Gets Better Campaign, didn't think could be done. On a recent visit to Winona State University in my small berg of Winona, Minn., prior to the election, Savage coached us not to be depressed and discouraged when the state-wide campaign to defeat a hurtful amendment defining marriage as something that can only occur between a man and a woman, failed. "Come on," he said. "It's likely you will fail. Every state before you has."
And so I should be dancing in the streets. I should be grinning from ear to ear and singing under my breath. Despite the odds, we pulled it off. Even better for me on a personal level is that the county I live in, Winona County, cast 14, 132 No votes to 12,884 Yes votes.
Instead, all I have been thinking about is what happened to me on election night while trolling between online sites and Facebook. There is a comment feed that runs along my Facebook page that sometimes pops up. I have never paid too much attention to it nor have I tried to figure out how to turn it off. On election night, these words popped up. "Well, I guess I have to go find out if my kid is going to learn how to be gay in school now."
My heart sank. A whole range of emotions swept through me, from selfish (hasn't this person read anything I've written in the last 18 months?) to stunned (there really are people who think being gay can be taught?). Besides the Vote Yes signs scattered throughout my town and opinion pieces in our local papers, this was physical proof that people feel fear about being gay. The many conversations I've had over the past 18 months have been filled with hang-ups over the word 'marriage' and Bible references suggesting being gay is a sin. But no one, until now, had admitted to fear. And until this night, I had not really faced a person who clearly felt like being gay was something that would be taught through simple acknowledgment of its existence.
The easy thing would have been to let this go. But I had come too far to turn back now. As annoying as it may be to be in an interpersonal relationship with me (I will not let anything go if there is a whisper of discontent), persistence comes in handy when you are woman on a mission.
I waded into the fire with a private message to someone I will call 'Joe.' Though respectful in tone, an unsatisfying exchange occurred in which it was revealed that being gay, according to Joe, is not natural, completely undesirable, and implications were that children are harmed by its existence.
I crafted my response to be, in my mind, zen-like:
"I am saddened to hear you think this. Can you tell me more? Perhaps if you knew someone who was gay, you might look at this a bit differently. I do respect your opinion. We are entitled to our opinions. Thank you for your thoughts. I am sure you are aware that this matters a great deal to me. If you would ever like to talk face to face, we could learn a lot from each other."
The conclusion was unsatisfactory. Joe admitted, "You will never change my mind. I know lots of gay people. I just think it's wrong and I don't want my kids exposed to it. But thanks, and turn off that feed!"
Clearly there are miles to go before I sleep, and that is why in the days following an historic election regarding marriage equality in Minnesota, I am stewing rather than singing.
Because of how far we have come, I have neglected to think of how far we have yet to go. I have ignored the fact that fear plays a major role in people's lives.
From where does this fear come? I am astounded to know I live on the same planet, in the same country, the same town, as people who feel their child will be forced to learn how to be gay when all along the conversation has been about a freedom, not forcing a lifestyle. It is impossible to be gay if you are not. A brief chat with any gay person will set yourself (a-hem) straight on this matter.
Three weeks ago my son said, "Mom, I know how you feel about gay people being married, but really I think it's kind of weird."
"You're probably not gay then, dude," I responded. He shrugged and went off to play his video game.
Kids, when presented with facts, don't react out of fear. They just take them in and move on. Over time, they will draw their own conclusion based on their life experiences. I wish we could get back to that child-like state in order to remain open to what is rather than what we think or want to be true. As adults, our clouded and jaded minds react out of fear and we seem to wallow in it, just I have been these last few days.
I heard a political analyst suggest that the great divide we face in our current political climate may be insurmountable because people have grown so comfortable with the division. Fear of the unknown keeps people rooted, and it is much easier to stay put that to travel beyond the comfort zone of our fears.
I won't let this dire pronouncement stop me from reaching out. Joe was obviously comfortable with his beliefs, however misguided they might be. I tried and in the end, that is all any of us can do.
I am still not singing, but at least I am moving forward while leaving my fears behind. I hope one day Joe can say the same.